Sensitivity of prefrontal cortex to changes in target probability: A functional MRI study

B. J. Casey, Steven D. Forman, Peter Franzen, Aaron Berkowitz, Todd S. Braver, Leigh E. Nystrom, Kathleen M. Thomas, Douglas C. Noll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

138 Scopus citations


Electrophysiological studies suggest sensitivity of the prefrontal cortex to changes in the probability of an event. The purpose of this study was to determine if subregions of the prefrontal cortex respond differentially to changes in target probabilities using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Ten right-handed adults were scanned using a gradient-echo, echo planar imaging sequence during performance of an oddball paradigm. Subjects were instructed to respond to any letter but "X". The frequency of targets (i.e., any letter but X) varied across trials. The results showed that dorsal prefrontal regions were active during infrequent events and ventral prefrontal regions were active during frequent events. Further, we observed an inverse relation between the dorsal and ventral prefrontal regions such that when activity in dorsal prefrontal regions increased, activity in ventral prefrontal regions decreased, and vice versa. This finding may index competing cognitive processes or capacity limitations. Most importantly, these findings taken as a whole suggest that any simple theory of prefrontal cortex function must take into account the sensitivity of this region to changes in target probability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)26-33
Number of pages8
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Attention
  • Inhibition
  • Neuroimaging
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • fMRI


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