Top-down inhibitory control exerted by the medial frontal cortex during action selection under conflict.
Duque J., Olivier E., Rushworth M.
Top-down control is critical to select goal-directed actions in changeable environments, particularly when several conflicting options compete for selection. In humans, this control system is thought to involve an inhibitory mechanism that suppresses the motor representation of unwanted responses to favor selection of the most appropriate action. Here, we aimed to evaluate the role of a region of the medial frontal cortex, the pre-SMA, in this form of inhibition by using a double coil TMS protocol combining repetitive TMS (rTMS) over the pre-SMA and a single-pulse TMS over the primary motor cortex (M1) during a visuomotor task that required participants to choose between a left or right button press according to an imperative cue. M1 stimulation allowed us to assess changes in motor excitability related to selected and nonselected (unwanted) actions, and rTMS was used to produce transient disruption of pre-SMA functioning. We found that when rTMS was applied over pre-SMA, inhibition of the nonselected movement representation was reduced. Importantly, this effect was only observed when the imperative cue produced a substantial amount of competition between the response alternatives. These results are consistent with previous studies pointing to a role of pre-SMA in competition resolution. In addition, our findings indicate that this function of pre-SMA involves the control of inhibitory influences directed at unwanted action representations.