Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex (DLPFC): Heart Of Life’s Success

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on May 23, 2013

According to Wikipedia…..

“DL-PFC serves as the highest cortical area responsible for motor planning, organization, and regulation. It plays an important role in the integration of sensory and mnemonic information and the regulation of intellectual function and action. It is also involved in working memory. However, DL-PFC is not exclusively responsible for the executive functions. All complex mental activity requires the additional cortical and subcortical circuits with which the DL-PFC is connected.[2][3]

Damage to the DL-PFC can result in the dysexecutive syndrome,[4] which leads to problems with affectsocial judgementexecutive memoryabstract thinking and intentionality.[5]

Academic Child Psychiatry, and Laura Tully PhD, in particular,  is trying to understand how social skills work on a neuroanatomical level, and in light of that, all roads point to the importance of a well-functioning dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). When this part of the brain works well, people can plan, anticipate, organize, empathize and thereby make good judgments, socially and otherwise. These findings deepen my appreciation for genetics, and how much of behavior, and positive outcomes, are based on DNA. Unempathic parents can disorganize a good brain, a good child, but empathic parents cannot replace a defective DLPFC. In other words, I think of the nature/nurture argument, as often supported by Steven Pinker PhD at Harvard, that growth is pre-determined, but malnutrition can change the outcome. A good diet cannot make someone taller, but a bad diet can make them shorter. So too with behavior. Good parenting does not always create “good” kids, but “bad” parenting can hurt “good” kids. The basic ingredient, a good DLPFC, is essential for life success. It is almost impossible to compensate for a defect in the DLPFC, as seen by people with head trauma resulting in damage to this area. Understanding the need for good brain functioning, helps parents of children with mental handicaps understand their limitations, as parents. Likewise, parents of children who do have good  brain functioning, need to understand that  their main job is “not to screw it up,” as I like to say. Nature and nurture go together, but understanding how this dynamic plays out, is essential to promoting the best development possible.

6 Responses to “Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex (DLPFC): Heart Of Life’s Success”

  1. Jon said

    Nature & nurture – a necessary but not sufficient condition & the needed extras to help become sufficient. It is not always this clean, but it is a good first approximation…

  2. Eli said

    Interesting how much of us is really hard wired. I was always wondering about Dyslexia whether there is a neurological basis and whether its a disease?

    • Yes, dyslexia almost certainly has a neurological basis. Disease is a difficult thing to define. I would say that dyslexia is atypical, and that it causes a learning challenge, so in that way it is a “disease”.

  3. Shelly said

    What are some things that can damage the DL-PFC, besides physical trauma? Medications? Disease? And what are things that can overcome these defects? Can these skills be learned?

    • The theory is that ADHD is a result of a defective DL-PFC, so this is DNA based. Certainly substances, such as excessive alcohol interfere with DL-PFC functioning, and hence more accidents happen while under the influence. To overcome these defects require avoiding substances, and in the case of ADHD, to do work-arounds, meaning stimulant medications help, as do tools, such as organization tools which aid in executive skills. Mostly, recognizing the difficulty is the first step towards working on compensating for the deficit. That is, if the social deficit is the most damaging, then social practice can help a lot.

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