Dissociating a common working memory network from different neural substrates of phonological and spatial stimulus processing

Bartosz Zurowski, Julia Gostomzyk, Georg Grön, Rolf Weller, Holger Schirrmeister, Bernd Neumeier, Manfred Spitzer, Sven N. Reske, Henrik Walter

92 Citations (Scopus)


Positron emission tomography was used to investigate common versus specific cortical regions for the maintenance of spatial versus phonological information in working memory (WM). Group and single-subject analyses of regional cerebral blood flow during a new 2 x 2 factorial n-back task were performed. Eight subjects had to memorize either phonological features or the location of serially presented syllables. Brain activation during phonological judgment and spatial judgment (0-back) was compared with that during two corresponding WM conditions (2-back). We observed a common network associated with the requirement of maintaining and sequencing items in WM. Seven or more subjects activated (posterior) superior frontal sulcus (pSFS, BA 6/8, global maximum) and/or adjacent gyri, posterior parietal cortex, and precuneus (BA 7). Less consistently, bilateral middle frontal gyrus (BA 9/46) was involved. Bilateral anterior (BA 39/40) and posterior (BA 7) intraparietal sulcus, as well as right pSFS, exhibited dominance for spatial WM. Although underlying stimulus processing pathways for both types of information were different, no region specific for phonological WM was found. Robust activation within the left inferior frontal gyrus (BA 44 and 45) was present, during both phonological WM and phonological judgment. We conclude that the controversial left prefrontal lateralization for verbal WM reflects more general phonological processing strategies, not necessarily required by tasks using letters. We propose a stimulus-independent role for the bilateral pSFS and its vicinity for maintenance and manipulation of different context-dependent information within working memory.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)45-57
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2002

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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