Functional topography of a distributed neural system for spatial and nonspatial information maintenance in working memory

Joseph B. Sala, Pia Rämä, Susan M. Courtney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We investigated the degree to which the distributed and overlapping patterns of activity for working memory (WM) maintenance of objects and spatial locations are functionally dissociable. Previous studies of the neural system responsible for maintenance of different types of information in WM have reported seemingly contradictory results concerning the degree to which spatial and nonspatial information maintenance leads to distinct patterns of activation in prefrontal cortex. These inconsistent results may be partly attributable to the fact that different types of objects were used for the "object WM task" across studies. In the current study, we directly compared the patterns of response during WM tasks for face identity, house identity, and spatial location using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Furthermore, independence of the neural resources available for spatial and object WM was tested behaviorally using a dual-task paradigm. Together, these results suggest that the mechanisms for the maintenance of house identity information are distributed and overlapping with those that maintain spatial location information, while the mechanisms for maintenance of face identity information are relatively more independent. There is, however, a consistent functional topography that results in superior prefrontal cortex producing the greatest response during spatial WM tasks, and middle and inferior prefrontal cortices producing their greatest responses during object WM tasks, independent of the object type. These results argue for a dorsal-ventral functional organization for spatial and nonspatial information. However, objects may contain both spatial and nonspatial information and, thus, have a distributed but not equipotent representation across both dorsal and ventral prefrontal cortex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)341-356
Number of pages16
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2003


  • Faces
  • Object
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Spatial
  • Vision
  • Working memory
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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