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Frontal lobe function

What is frontal lobe ?

The frontal lobe is a part of the brain that is present in humans and mammals.

It is situated anterior to both cerebral hemispheres; above and in front of the temporal lobes and in front of the parietal lobe. There is a space known as central sulcus, between parietal lobe and frontal lobe that separates the two areas of the brain. The lateral sulcus separates it from the temporal lobe. The precentral gyrus which forms the posterior part of the frontal lobe, contains the motor cortex which is responsible for voluntary motor movements of certain parts of the body.

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The dopamine-sensitive neurons are widely present in the frontal lobe and are responsible for a number of frontal lobe functions. The dopamine neurons are an essential part of several functions such as attention, planning, short-term memory jobs, reward and motivation. It regulates and selectively passes on sensory signals that come from the thalamus to the front part of the brain. Any reduction of dopamine actions in the prefrontal cortex, generally caused due to gene abnormalities, can result in brain dysfunction, affect memory tasks and also increase the vulnerability to schizophrenia.

Anatomy of frontal lobe

The frontal lobe is split from the temporal lobe by the lateral sulcus, while the central sulcus distinguishes it from the parietal lobe.

The frontal lobe is made up of four different parts known as polar, lateral, medial and orbital (also known as ventral or basal). All these parts contain specific gyri. The details of the parts are discussed below:

  • The polar region: It consists of frontomarginal gyrus and transverse frontopolar gyri
  • The lateral region: It consists of middle frontal gyrus, precentral gyrus, inferior central gyrus and lateral area of superior frontal gyrus
  • The medial region: It consists of cingulate gyrus and the medial area of superior frontal gyrus.
  • The orbital region: It consists of anterior orbital gyrus, gyrus rectus, lateral orbital gyrus, medial orbital gyrus and posterior orbital gyrus

The sulci divide the gyri. For example:

  • The inferior frontal sulcus separates the inferior and middle frontal gyri
  • The precentral gyrus is posterior to the precentral sulcus and anterior to the central sulcus
  • The superior frontal sulcus divides the middle and superior frontal gyri

The frontal lobe is fully developed by the age of twenty years in humans. This is considered as cognitive maturity in adult humans. This has been understood after studies indicated the presence of increased myelin in adult frontal lobe, as compared to adolescent frontal lobe. Poor myelin presence in the frontal lobe results in abnormal connections between brain cells, as is found in early schizophrenic patients.

Frontal lobe function

The frontal lobe is responsible for the control of emotions and determination of one’s personality. Lesions in this part of the brain can affect frontal lobe and cause a number of symptoms.

  • Frontal lobe function encapsulates several areas such as problem solving, memory, launching, sexual and social attitude, motor function, impulsiveness and its control, judgment and language. Due to the large size of the frontal lobe, its location in the front part of the brain and its nearness to the sphenoid wing, it is very vulnerable to injury.
  • Frontal lobe function is differentiated as per the specific part of the frontal lobe. The right side is responsible for non-verbal capacities, while the left part of the frontal lobe control verbal movements and language. However, this differentiation in functions is not absolute, as studies indicate the use of both frontal lobe parts for all functions in a number of individuals.
  • Frontal lobe function also controls problem solving ability, flexibility and divergent thinking. Most forms of conventional IQ testing employs assessment of convergent thinking. Hence, individuals who have mild frontal lobe injuries, do not seem to fair badly in such intelligence tests.
  • Strength loss in the arms, fingers and hands as well as in fine motor movements form a part of frontal lobe motor function dysfunction. In addition, frontal lobe function also involves complicated chains of motor motions.
  • Frontal lobe trauma can lead to diminished spontaneity of facial expressions. Also, conditions such as Broca’s Aphasia that leads to speaking deficits is also known to be caused by frontal lobe damage
  • Frontal lobe damage can also affect the frontal lobe function of correct interpretation of the environment. This can affect activities such as risk taking, persistence with a particular response, deficient learning from environmental cues and nonconformity to rules.
  • Frontal lobe is also responsible for social behavior and hence any injury to this section of the brain can lead to changes in ones outlook to the social environment. Pseudo-depression can be caused due to damage to the left part of the frontal lobe, while right side damage can result in pseudo-psychopathic changes in social behavior.
  • An important frontal lobe function is its role in spatial orientation that includes the orientation of the body with regards to space
  • Frontal lobe function such as sexual behavior can also change due to trauma. Dorolateral lesions inhibit sexual activity, while Orbital frontal trauma can cause irregular sexual behavior.
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