Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Individuals vary greatly in their ability to select one item or response when presented with a multitude of options. Here we investigate the neural underpinnings of these individual differences. Using magnetic resonance spectroscopy, we found that the balance of inhibitory versus excitatory neurotransmitters in pFC predicts the ability to select among task-relevant options in two language production tasks. The greater an individual's concentration of GABA relative to glutamate in the lateral pFC, the more quickly he or she could select a relevant word from among competing options. This outcome is consistent with our computational modeling of this task [Snyder, H. R., Hutchison, N., Nyhus, E., Curran, T., Banich, M. T., O'Reilly, R. C., et al. Neural inhibition enables selection during language processing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A., 107, 16483–16488, 2010], which predicts that greater net inhibition in pFC increases the efficiency of resolving competition among task-relevant options. Moreover, the association with the GABA/glutamate ratio was specific to selection and was not observed for executive function ability in general. These findings are the first to link the balance of excitatory and inhibitory neural transmission in pFC to specific aspects of executive function.