Executive function is a collection of cognitive processes essential for higher order mental function. Processes involved in executive function include, but are not limited to, working memory, attention, cognitive flexibility, and impulse control. These complex behaviors are largely mediated by prefrontal cortical function but are modulated by dopaminergic, noradrenergic, serotonergic, and cholinergic input. The ability of these neurotransmitter systems to modulate executive function allows for adaptation in cognitive behavior in response to changes in the environment. Because of the important role these neurotransmitter systems play in regulating executive function, changes in these systems can also have a grave impact on executive function. In addition, polymorphisms in genes associated with these neurotransmitters are associated with phenotypic differences in executive function. Understanding how these naturally occurring polymorphisms contribute to different executive function phenotypes will advance basic knowledge of cognition and potentially further understanding and treatment of mental illness that involve changes in executive function. In this review, we will examine the influence of dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and acetylcholine on the following measures of executive function: attention, cognitive flexibility, and impulse control. We will also review the effects of polymorphisms in genes associated with these neurotransmitter systems on these measures of executive function.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Clinical Biochemistry
- Biological Psychiatry
- Behavioral Neuroscience