The frontal generator of the mismatch negativity revisited

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The mismatch negativity (MMN) is an event-related brain potential elicited by the occurrence of a rare event (deviance) in an otherwise regular acoustic environment, and is assumed to reflect apreattentive mechanism for change detection. A widely adopted model holds that MMN has main generators in the superior temporal planes bilaterally, which are responsible for the sensory memory part of change detection, as well as frontal lobe sources responsible for triggering an attention shift upon change detection. Whereas the temporal sources have been documented in numerous studies across species and methodologies, much less is known about the frontal sources. The present review examines the current state of the evidence for their existence, location, and possible function. It confirms that the frontal generator is still a less consistent finding in MMN research than the temporal generator. There is clear evidence from scalp EEG and, especially, current source density studies for the existence of an MMN generator that is functionally distinct from the main supratemporal generator of the MMN. Evidence from fMRI, PET, optical imaging, EEG source imaging, and lesion studies implicates mainly the inferior frontal and possibly also the medial frontal cortex. However, these results should be taken with caution because of the paucity of support from more direct measures like intracranial recordings and MEG, and the negative findings from several fMRI and PET, as well as EEG source imaging studies. Recent studies also raise questions about the exact role of the frontal generator in triggering an attention shift. Delineating the exact cortical locations of frontal MMN generators, the conditions under which they are activated and. consequently, their function, remains an acute challenge.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)188-203
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Psychophysiology
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 2007


  • Attention
  • EEG
  • EROS
  • Frontal lobe
  • Inverse solution
  • Lesions
  • MMN
  • Sources
  • fMRI


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