Lateralization of prefrontal activation during internal mental calculation: a functional magnetic resonance imaging study

P. Burbaud, P. Degreze, P. Lafon, J. M. Franconi, B. Bouligand, B. Bioulac, J. M. Caille, M. Allard


1. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at 1.5 T was used to investigate the lateralization of prefrontal cortex activity during internal mental calculation in 16 human volunteers (8 right-handed and 8 left-handed). Subjects were asked to perform two different tasks: 1) a serial subtraction of prime numbers and 2) a control task in which they mentally recited numbers. 2. Signal modifications were regularly observed in the prefrontal cortex (Brodmann's area 46) during the serial subtraction of prime numbers, whereas the number listing task poorly activated the same areas. 3. In right-handed subjects, activation was clearly lateralized in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, whereas a frequent bilateral activation was found in left-handed subjects. 4. We conclude that prefrontal activation during mental calculation is lateralized in a manner similar to that reported during linguistic tasks, i.e., a clear lateralization in right- but not in left-handed subjects.