The whole prefrontal cortex is premotor cortex

Justin M. Fine, Benjamin Y. Hayden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


We propose that the entirety of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) can be seen as fundamentally premotor in nature. By this, we mean that the PFC consists of an action abstraction hierarchy whose core function is the potentiation and depotentiation of possible action plans at different levels of granularity. We argue that the apex of the hierarchy should revolve around the process of goal-selection, which we posit is inherently a form of optimization over action abstraction. Anatomical and functional evidence supports the idea that this hierarchy originates on the orbital surface of the brain and extends dorsally to motor cortex. Accordingly, our viewpoint positions the orbitofrontal cortex in a key role in the optimization of goal-selection policies, and suggests that its other proposed roles are aspects of this more general function. Our proposed perspective will reframe outstanding questions, open up new areas of inquiry and align theories of prefrontal function with evolutionary principles. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Systems neuroscience through the lens of evolutionary theory’.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20200524
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1844
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.


  • dynamical systems
  • hierarchy
  • motor cortex
  • orbitofrontal cortex
  • premotor cortex


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