Impaired facilitatory mechanisms of auditory selective attention after damage of the lateral prefrontal cortex


There is growing evidence that auditory selective attention operates via distinct facilitatory and inhibitory mechanisms enabling selective enhancement and suppression of sound processing, respectively. The lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC) plays a crucial role in the top-down control of selective attention. However, whether the LPFC controls facilitatory, inhibitory, or both attentional mechanisms is unclear. Facilitatory and inhibitory mechanisms were assessed, in patients with LPFC damage, by comparing event-related potentials (ERPs) to attended and ignored sounds with ERPs to these same sounds when attention was equally distributed to all sounds. In control subjects, we observed 2 late frontally distributed ERP components: a transient facilitatory component occurring from 150 to 250 ms after sound onset; and an inhibitory component onsetting at 250 ms. Only the facilitatory component was affected in patients with LPFC damage: this component was absent when attending to sounds delivered in the ear contralateral to the lesion, with the most prominent decreases observed over the damaged brain regions. These findings have 2 important implications: (i) they provide evidence for functionally distinct facilitatory and inhibitory mechanisms supporting late auditory selective attention; (ii) they show that the LPFC is involved in the control of the facilitatory mechanisms of auditory attention.