An event-related fMRI study of the neural networks underlying the encoding, maintenance, and retrieval phase in a delayed-match-to-sample task

Habeck, Christian; Rakitin, Brian C.; Moeller, James; Scarmeas, Nikolaos; Zarahn, Eric; Brown, Truman; Stern, Yaakov

Memory loads exceeding the limited capacity of working memory (WM) have been shown to expand the prefrontal areas that participate in WM and have revealed substantial individual differences in performance. We used a delayed-match-to-sample (DMS) task in an eventrelated fMRI study to map the full extent of the expanded regional activations associated with supracapacity loads. A 6-letter study array was compared to arrays of 1 and 3 letters. The task comprised separate encoding, retention, and retrieval fMRI epochs. A brain-wide spatial covariance analysis was applied to the data of all task epochs to identify patterns of correlated regional activations whose expression increased monotonically across 3 memory-load levels on a subject-by-subject basis. Such load-related activation patterns were in all task phases. Of greatest interest is the activation pattern that was obtained during the maintenance phase: increasing activation with memory load was found not only in the lateral PFC (BA 9,44) but also in the parietal lobe (BA 7,40), anterior cingulate (BA 32), and cerebellum. Decreasing activation was found in the occipito-temporal lobe (BA 19,39) as well as the medial prefrontal cortex (BA 9,10). Subject increases in pattern expression from 1 to 6 items were positively correlated with the corresponding reaction time increases ( pb0.05) and negatively correlated with NARTIQ ( pb0.05), indicating that people who were faster in their responses and had higher NARTIQ had to increase their subject expression of the memory-load-related activation pattern less and were more efficient at the cognitive task. Our method thus not only reproduced findings of other WM studies but also addressed the issue of interactions between lateral PFC and other parts of the brain during the task, for the retention of the to-be-remembered information. The load-related activation patterns from encoding and retrieval phase and their relationship to behavior are also discussed.



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February 11, 2022