Neuroanatomic overlap of working memory and spatial attention networks: A functional MRI comparison within subjects

Kevin S. Labar, Darren R. Gitelman, Todd B. Parrish, M. Marsel Mesulam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

409 Scopus citations


Frontal and posterior parietal activations have been reported in numerous studies of working memory and visuospatial attention. To directly compare the brain regions engaged by these two cognitive functions, the same set of subjects consecutively participated in tasks of working memory and spatial attention while undergoing functional MRI (fMRI). The working memory task required the subject to maintain an on-line representation of foveally displayed letters against a background of distracters. The spatial attention task required the subject to shift visual attention covertly in response to a centrally presented directional cue. The spatial attention task had no working memory requirement, and the working memory task had no covert spatial attention requirement. Subjects' ability to maintain central fixation was confirmed outside the MRI scanner using infrared oculography. According to cognitive conjunction analysis, the set of activations common to both tasks included the intraparietal sulcus, ventral precentral sulcus, supplementary motor area, frontal eye fields, thalamus, cerebellum, left temporal neocortex, and right insula. Double-subtraction analyses yielded additional activations attributable to verbal working memory in premotor cortex, left inferior prefrontal cortex, right inferior parietal lobule, precuneus, and right cerebellum. Additional activations attributable to covert spatial attention included the occipitotemporal junction and extrastriate cortex. The use of two different tasks in the same set of subjects allowed us to provide an unequivocal demonstration that the neural networks subserving spatial attention and working memory intersect at several frontoparietal sites. These findings support the view that major cognitive domains are represented by partially overlapping large-scale neural networks. The presence of this overlap also suggests that spatial attention and working memory share common cognitive features related to the dynamic shifting of attentional resources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)695-704
Number of pages10
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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