The role of spatial configuration in tests of working memory explored with functional neuroimaging.


While the importance of the prefrontal cortex for "higher-order" cognitive functions is largely undisputed, no consensus has been reached regarding the fractionation of functions within this region. Several recent functional neuroimaging studies have suggested that the mid-ventrolateral frontal cortex may play an important role in various aspects of human memory. Thus, similar patterns of activation have been observed in this region during analogous spatial, verbal and visual span tasks. In the present study, however, activation was observed in a more dorsolateral region of the lateral frontal cortex during a modified version of the spatial span task, which differed only in the spatial configuration of the array employed. The results of a supplementary behavioral study, designed to investigate this effect further, suggest that in spatial memory tasks certain stimulus configurations may encourage subjects to adopt mnemonic strategies, which may depend upon dorsolateral, rather than ventrolateral, regions of the frontal cortex. These findings shed further light on the functional relationship between dorsal and ventral regions of the lateral frontal cortex and, more specifically, how the "executive" processes assumed to be dependent upon these regions might contribute to aspects of human memory.