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The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain located on the frontal lobes in each of the brain's hemispheres. Dopamine systems seem to be of special importance in this region. It is extensively connected to several other areas of the brain, such as the thalamus, the hippocampus, and the parietal, temporal, and occipital lobes of the cortex. These structural features are related to the function of this region, such as working memory and executive processes involving thought and action.
The connections between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the parietal lobe are involved in what some researchers call the "how system". This system assesses how to go about responding to environmental stimuli, and which response would be the most appropriate. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, at least in part, allows humans to apply complex rules to behavioral responses, even if these rules have only recently been learned. This cortical area is not solely responsible for these executive and memory related functions, but functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies show that it does play a large role in them.
When the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is damaged, a variety of symptoms may occur, which also give insight into this area's function. Widespread damage can cause a disorder known as dysexecutive syndrome. This condition is marked by problems with memory, executive decisions, mood, and overall knowledge of which behaviors are socially appropriate.
Recalling information that has personal value may be another function of this cortical region. If the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is anesthetized during surgery, individuals have problems recognizing photos of themselves. Some fMRI studies have shown changes in activity for this region in depressed individuals, corresponding to paying attention to emotional stimuli.
Research indicates several other tasks that this cortical region is involved in. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex could assist in encoding working memory into long-term storage. Other fMRI studies show that this region somehow contributes to memorizing associations between discrete events, such as whether two words have similar meanings.
Making decisions where moral choices are a factor also involves this brain region. As an extension of this concept, the balancing and switching of goals also takes place in neural pathways that incorporate this area. This is shown with fMRI studies involving problem gamblers, who have deficient activity in this portion of the frontal lobes, and may be unable to switch activity goals despite input that would discourage further gambling.