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Executive functions across the life span: methodological and genomic aspects
Executive functions across the life span: methodological and genomic aspects
The term Executive Functions (EFs) denotes higher cognitive functions that are responsible for controlling and coordinating mental processes, serving the attainment of behavioral goals. The construct, albeit lacking a concise definition, includes an array of meta-cognitive processes such as inhibition, set-shifting, working memory, and verbal fluency. It has been shown that EFs can be divided into subfunctions, having both common and separable behavioral underpinnings that share a polygenic basis, and are distinct from but related to general intelligence. Neurotypical EF critically depends on the integrity of the prefrontal cortex, and its interconnected areas. Importantly, EFs are impaired in many mental disorders, e.g. in schizophrenia. The present thesis summarizes five studies that focus on different areas of the EF construct. Some studies have a methodological emphasis, and most of them are relevant to the longitudinal course of EFs across the lifespan. Behavioral (Heilbronner & Pollmann, 2010), neuronal (Heilbronner & Münte, 2013), clinical (Heilbronner et al., 2016), and genomic (Heilbronner, Papiol, et al., 2021, Wendel et al., 2021) aspects are addressed. Results show EFs to dynamically change across the life span, both in health and disease, with a pronounced genetic influence. Future research on EF could benefit from the integration of cross-sectional and longitudinal data, and from the use of latent phenotypes.
cognitive, inhibition, prefrontal, psychiatry, longitudinal
Heilbronner, Urs
2022
English
Universitätsbibliothek der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Heilbronner, Urs (2022): Executive functions across the life span: methodological and genomic aspects. Habilitationsschrift, LMU München: Faculty of Medicine
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Abstract

The term Executive Functions (EFs) denotes higher cognitive functions that are responsible for controlling and coordinating mental processes, serving the attainment of behavioral goals. The construct, albeit lacking a concise definition, includes an array of meta-cognitive processes such as inhibition, set-shifting, working memory, and verbal fluency. It has been shown that EFs can be divided into subfunctions, having both common and separable behavioral underpinnings that share a polygenic basis, and are distinct from but related to general intelligence. Neurotypical EF critically depends on the integrity of the prefrontal cortex, and its interconnected areas. Importantly, EFs are impaired in many mental disorders, e.g. in schizophrenia. The present thesis summarizes five studies that focus on different areas of the EF construct. Some studies have a methodological emphasis, and most of them are relevant to the longitudinal course of EFs across the lifespan. Behavioral (Heilbronner & Pollmann, 2010), neuronal (Heilbronner & Münte, 2013), clinical (Heilbronner et al., 2016), and genomic (Heilbronner, Papiol, et al., 2021, Wendel et al., 2021) aspects are addressed. Results show EFs to dynamically change across the life span, both in health and disease, with a pronounced genetic influence. Future research on EF could benefit from the integration of cross-sectional and longitudinal data, and from the use of latent phenotypes.