The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is a major challenge in Neurosciences. This brain region controls behavior adaptation and highercognitive functions that are needed for complex social interaction, abstract thinking, reasoning, planning or creativity. While damageto the PFC is present in the major brain diseases, responsible for complex cognitive deficits and behavioral disorders (in the field ofreasoning, creativity, motivation, social cognition…), both its organization at a cognitive, functional and anatomical level and itsoperationalization in specific brain networks are not well understood.
The general aims of researchers at the FRONTLAB are: i/ to better circumscribe the role and organization of PFC subregions in theadaptive aspects of cognition and behavior, ii/ to translate this knowledge for improving the medical care of patients with PFCdamage.
Our team project is focused on two crucial but poorly studied dimensions of PFC functions:
1/ We investigate the cognitive components of creative thinking, including the ability to think away from pre-established associations,to catch similarities between dissimilar/distant items (analogical reasoning) and to combine remote mental representations(combinatorial processes). We have already shown that the rostral and the caudal parts of PFC play distinct roles in these processes. New experimental paradigms are developed for describing the organization of PFC in creativity processing by using complementarymethods including functional (fMRI), morphometry, diffusion imaging and tractography, local inhibition by transcranial magneticstimulations (rTMS), neurosurgical per-operative electrical stimulation and event related potentials.
2/ We study the role of the PFC in initiation of goal-directed behaviors (GDB), using apathy as a pathological model. Our workinghypothesis is that apathy is caused by different underlying mechanisms (Levy and Dubois, 2006) including: a) difficulties indetermining the affective value of a given GDB, b) an inability to elaborate/activate action plans, and c) a disconnection betweenvaluation and planning processing, both being separately intact. This hypothesis is currently tested using an original set of tasks thatorthogonally crosses valuation and planning. The neural correlates of apathy and of each of its mechanisms are analyzed byperforming behavior-lesion mapping in grey and white matter in different groups of apathetic patients, and by fMRI and causal neurostimulation in healthy subjects, as well. Finally, goal-directed behavior and apathy are also investigated in different groups ofparticipants while freely behaving in ecological condition in association with a multimodal system capturing behavior.
This important corpus of experiences should provide new insights on this badly known land of the brain by providing: i) new cognitivemodels of creativity, analogical reasoning and initiation of GDB; ii) a better knowledge of their neural correlates in healthy subjectsand patients with frontal damage; ii) new tools to clinically assess these functions in patients; and iii) rehabilitation programs andnon-invasive transcranial stimulation therapy.