Rule violation errors are associated with right lateral prefrontal cortex atrophy in neurodegenerative disease


Good cognitive performance requires adherence to rules specific to the task at hand. Patients with neurological disease often make rule violation (RV) errors, but the anatomical basis for RV during cognitive testing remains debated. The present study examined the neuroanatomical correlates of RV errors made on tests of executive functioning in 166 subjects diagnosed with neurodegenerative disease or as neurologically healthy. Specifically, RV errors were voxel-wisely correlated with gray matter volume derived from high-definition magnetic resonance images using voxel-based morphometry implemented in SPM2. Latent variable analysis showed that RV errors tapped a unitary construct separate from repetition errors. This analysis was used to generate factor scores to represent what is common among RV errors across tests. The extracted RV factor scores correlated with tissue loss in the lateral middle and inferior frontal gyri and the caudate nucleus bilaterally. When a more stringent control for global cognitive functioning was applied using Mini Mental State Exam scores, only the correlations with the right lateral prefrontal cortex (PFC) remained significant. These data underscore the importance of right lateral PFC in behavioral monitoring and highlight the potential of RV error assessment for identifying patients with damage to this region.

J Int Neuropsychol Soc