Studies on nonhuman primates show that the premotor (PM) and prefrontal (PF) areas are necessary for the arbitrary mapping of a set of stimuli onto a set of responses. However, positron emission tomography (PET) measurements of regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) in human subjects have failed to reveal the predicted rCBF changes during such behavior. We therefore studied rCBF while subjects learned two arbitrary mapping tasks. In the conditional motor task, visual stimuli instructed which of four directions to move a joystick (with the right, dominant hand). In the evaluation task, subjects moved the joystick in a predetermined direction to report whether an arrow pointed in the direction associated with a given stimulus. For both tasks there were three rules: for the nonspatial rule, the pattern within each stimulus determined the correct direction; for the spatial rule, the location of the stimulus did so; and for the fixed-response rule, movement direction was constant regardless of the pattern or its location. For the nonspatial rule, performance of the evaluation task led to a learning-related increase in rCBF in a caudal and ventral part of the premotor cortex (PMvc, area 6), bilaterally, as well as in the putamen and a cingulate motor area (CM, area 24) of the left hemisphere. Decreases in rCBF were observed in several areas: the left ventro-orbital prefrontal cortex (PFv, area 47/12), the left lateral cerebellar hemisphere, and, in the right hemisphere, a dorsal and rostral aspect of PM (PMdr, area 6), dorsal PF (PFd, area 9), and the posterior parietal cortex (area 39/40). During performance of the conditional motor task, there was only a decrease in the parietal area. For the spatial rule, no rCBF change reached significance for the evaluation task, but in the conditional motor task, a ventral and rostral premotor region (PMvr, area 6), the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (PFdl, area 46), and the posterior parietal cortex (area 39/40) showed decreasing rCBF during learning, all in the right hemisphere. These data confirm the predicted rCBF changes in premotor and prefrontal areas during arbitrary mapping tasks and suggest that a broad frontoparietal network may show decreased synaptic activity as arbitrary rules become more familiar.
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