Transcranial magnetic stimulation dissociates prefrontal and parietal contributions to task preparation.
Muhle-Karbe PS., Andres M., Brass M.
Cognitive control is thought to rely upon a set of distributed brain regions within frontoparietal cortex, but the functional contributions of these regions remain elusive. Here, we investigated the disruptive effects of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) over the human prefrontal and parietal cortices in task preparation at different abstraction levels. While participants completed a task-switching paradigm that assessed the reconfiguration of task goals and response sets independently, TMS was applied over the left inferior frontal junction (IFJ) and over the left intraparietal sulcus (IPS) during task preparation. In Experiment 1, TMS over the IFJ caused interference with the updating of task goals, while leaving the updating of response sets unaffected. In Experiment 2, TMS over the IPS created the opposite pattern of results, perturbing only the ability to update response sets, but not task goals. Experiment 3 furthermore revealed that TMS over the IPS interfered with task goal updating when the pulses are delivered at a later point in time during preparation. This dissociation of abstract and action-related components not only reveals distinct cognitive control processes during task preparation, but also sheds new light on how prefrontal and parietal areas might work in concert to support flexible and goal-oriented control of behavior.