John Libbey Eurotext

Revue de neuropsychologie


The prefrontal cortex and learning: characterization of a critical role Volume 3, issue 4, Décembre 2011


See all figures

Université de Montréal, Canada, Centre de Recherche, CHU Sainte-Justine, Montréal, Canada

The capacity to learn is essential in a changing environment. The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is known to regulate executive functions and its lesions compromise each stage of the learning process, namely: encoding, consolidation and retrieval. This article reviews recent results on the role of the prefrontal cortex in each stage of learning, in the context of declarative memory and visual perception. At the encoding stage, the PFC's importance is twofold. Firstly, using top-down mechanisms, the PFC improves the metabolic and electrophysiological efficiency of early visual processing areas. Secondly, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) is thought to underlie the semantic reorganization of stimuli, allowing for deeper encoding and higher quality of the mnemonic trace. Consolidation is the process whereby temporarily held information is transformed into more permanent memories. During this process, which is mediated by sleep, the engram transfers from the hippocampus to the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) where it reaches a more stable form. Finally, the PFC facilitates retrieval by clustering information into single semantic categories and by inhibiting distracting stimuli. These data suggest that the PFC powerfully optimizes each stage of the learning process. Future research in this area should progressively reveal integrative models including, but not limited to the PFC.