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Impairments of emotion and real-world complex behavior following childhood- or adult-onset damage to ventromedial prefrontal cortex



The behavioral syndrome resulting from damage to the ventromedial prefrontal (VM) region presents major challenges for clinical assessment and management, stemming from the absence of reliable neurologic or psychometric markers, coupled with often debilitating impairments of decision-making and behavior regulation. Damage to this region disrupts neural circuitry critical for emotion, which in turn may contribute to impairments in real-world competencies. Here we present findings from patients with focal lesions in the VM region acquired either in childhood or adulthood, and show that there is a relationship between emotional dysfunction and impairments in real-world behavioral competencies. Emotion was rated by participants' relatives on dimensions including frustration tolerance, lability, anxiety, and blunted affect. Real-world competencies were rated by the relatives on dimensions including judgment, planning, and initiation, and were evaluated by clinician ratings in areas including social, financial, and occupational function. VM damage resulted in severe disruption of emotion, and this emotional dysfunction accounted for a significant portion of impaired real-world competencies. The long-term impairments associated with childhood-onset lesions were at least as severe as those resulting from adult-onset damage. Greater focus on the contribution of emotional dysfunction to the real-world competencies of patients with damage in the VM region may sharpen their neuropsychological assessment and facilitate rehabilitation efforts. (JINS, 2006, 12, 224–235.)


Corresponding author

Reprint requests to: Steven W. Anderson, Ph.D., Department of Neurology, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa City, IA 52242. E-mail:


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