The anterior prefrontal cortex is known to subserve higher cognitive functions such as task management and planning. Less is known, however, about the functional specialization of this cortical region in humans. Using functional MRI, we report a double dissociation: the medial anterior prefrontal cortex, in association with the ventral striatum, was engaged preferentially when subjects executed tasks in sequences that were expected, whereas the polar prefrontal cortex, in association with the dorsolateral striatum, was involved preferentially when subjects performed tasks in sequences that were contingent on unpredictable events. These results parallel the functional segregation previously described between the medial and lateral premotor cortex underlying planned and contingent motor control and extend this division to the anterior prefrontal cortex, when task management and planning are required. Thus, our findings support the assumption that common frontal organizational principles underlie motor and higher executive functions in humans.
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