Action Monitoring and Medial Frontal Cortex: Leading Role of Supplementary Motor Area

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Science  21 Feb 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6173, pp. 888-891
DOI: 10.1126/science.1247412

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Evaluating our actions, and detecting our errors, is crucial for adaptive behavior. These fundamental executive functions are intensively studied in cognitive and social neuroscience, but their anatomical basis remains poorly characterized. Using intracerebral electroencephalography in patients being prepared for epilepsy surgery, Bonini et al. (p. 888) found that, contrary to what is widely assumed, the supplementary motor area, and not the anterior cingulate cortex, plays a leading role in these processes. The data provide a precise spatio-temporal description of the cortical network underlying action monitoring and error processing.


The capacity to evaluate the outcomes of our actions is fundamental for adapting and optimizing behavior and depends on an action-monitoring system that assesses ongoing actions and detects errors. The neuronal network underlying this executive function, classically attributed to the rostral cingulate zone, is poorly characterized in humans, owing to the limited number of direct neurophysiological data. Using intracerebral recordings, we show that the leading role is played by the supplementary motor area (SMA), which rapidly evaluates successful and erroneous actions. The rostral part of medial prefrontal cortex, driven by the SMA, was activated later and exclusively in the case of errors. This suggests a hierarchical organization of the different frontal regions involved in implementation of action monitoring and error processing.

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