Physiological substrates of executive functioning: a systematic review of the literature

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Executive function (EF) is a multifaceted construct that has been defined as a set of higher-order cognitive processes that allow for flexibility, self-regulation, strategic planning, and goal-directed behaviors. EFs have been studied in numerous clinical disorders using a variety of neuropsychological tasks and, more recently, neuroimaging techniques. The underlying physiological substrates of EF were historically attributed to the frontal lobes; however, recent studies suggest more widespread involvement of additional brain regions. The purpose of the present study was to conduct a systematic review (using PRISMA 2009 guidelines) of neuroimaging studies employing functional magnetic resonance imaging and diffusion tensor imaging methods investigating the physiological substrates of EFs in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder compared to other clinical groups and non-clinical participants. Research articles were retrieved using PsycINFO, PsycARTICLES, MEDLINE, and ScienceDirect, beginning February 2015 through May 2016. A total of 42 studies met eligibility. Of those 42 studies, 22 studies included clinical participants and 20 studies included non-clinical participants. Results revealed increased activation of the frontal brain region in the majority of non-clinical studies and approximately 50% of the clinical studies, albeit with some inconsistencies across subregions, tasks, and age groups. Implications, methodological limitations, and suggestions for future research are discussed.

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ADHD Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders