Prefrontal executive and cognitive functions in rodents: neural and neurochemical substrates.


The prefrontal cortex has been implicated in a variety of cognitive and executive processes, including working memory, decision-making, inhibitory response control, attentional set-shifting and the temporal integration of voluntary behaviour. This article reviews current progress in our understanding of the rodent prefrontal cortex, especially evidence for functional divergence of the anatomically distinct sub-regions of the rat prefrontal cortex. Recent findings suggest clear distinctions between the dorsal (precentral and anterior cingulate) and ventral (prelimbic, infralimbic and medial orbital) sub-divisions of the medial prefrontal cortex, and between the orbitofrontal cortex (ventral orbital, ventrolateral orbital, dorsal and ventral agranular cortices) and the adjacent medial wall of the prefrontal cortex. The dorso-medial prefrontal cortex is implicated in memory for motor responses, including response selection, and the temporal processing of information. Ventral regions of the medial prefrontal cortex are implicated in interrelated 'supervisory' attentional functions, including attention to stimulus features and task contingencies (or action-outcome rules), attentional set-shifting, and behavioural flexibility. The orbitofrontal cortex is implicated in lower-order discriminations, including reversal of stimulus-reward associations (reversal learning), and choice involving delayed reinforcement. It is anticipated that a greater understanding of the prefrontal cortex will come from using tasks that load specific cognitive and executive processes, in parallel with discovering new ways of manipulating the different sub-regions and neuromodulatory systems of the prefrontal cortex.