Evidence for a Double Dissociation of Articulatory Rehearsal and Non-Articulatory Maintenance of Phonological Information in Human Verbal Working Memory

Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Center for Translational Research in Systems Neuroscience and Clinical Psychiatry, Georg August University, Goettingen, Germany.
Neuropsychobiology (Impact Factor: 2.3). 02/2012; 65(3):133-40. DOI: 10.1159/000332335
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Recent functional neuroimaging studies have provided evidence that human verbal working memory is represented by two complementary neural systems, a left lateralized premotor-parietal network implementing articulatory rehearsal and a presumably phylogenetically older bilateral anterior-prefrontal/inferior-parietal network subserving non-articulatory maintenance of phonological information. In order to corroborate these findings from functional neuroimaging, we performed a targeted behavioural study in patients with very selective and circumscribed brain lesions to key regions suggested to support these different subcomponents of human verbal working memory.
Within a sample of over 500 neurological patients assessed with high-resolution structural magnetic resonance imaging, we identified 2 patients with corresponding brain lesions, one with an isolated lesion to Broca's area and the other with a selective lesion bilaterally to the anterior middle frontal gyrus. These 2 patients as well as groups of age-matched healthy controls performed two circuit-specific verbal working memory tasks. In this way, we systematically assessed the hypothesized selective behavioural effects of these brain lesions on the different subcomponents of verbal working memory in terms of a double dissociation.
Confirming prior findings, the lesion to Broca's area led to reduced performance under articulatory rehearsal, whereas the non-articulatory maintenance of phonological information was unimpaired. Conversely, the bifrontopolar brain lesion was associated with impaired non-articulatory phonological working memory, whereas performance under articulatory rehearsal was unaffected.
The present experimental neuropsychological study in patients with specific and circumscribed brain lesions confirms the hypothesized double dissociation of two complementary brain systems underlying verbal working memory in humans. In particular, the results demonstrate the functional relevance of the anterior prefrontal cortex for non-articulatory maintenance of phonological information and, in this way, provide further support for the evolutionary-based functional-neuroanatomical model of human working memory.

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