Anatomical modularity of verbal working memory? Functional anatomical evidence from a famous patient with short-term memory deficits

Eraldo Paulesu, Tim Shallice, Laura Danelli, Maurizio Sberna, Richard S.J. Frackowiak, Chris D. Frith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Cognitive skills are the emergent property of distributed neural networks. The distributed nature of these networks does not necessarily imply a lack of specialization of the individual brain structures involved. However, it remains questionable whether discrete aspects of high-level behavior might be the result of localized brain activity of individual nodes within such networks. The phonological loopof working memory, with its simplicity, seems ideally suited for testing this possibility. Central to the development of the phonological loop model has been the description of patients with focal lesions and specific deficits. As much as the detailed description of their behavior has served to refine the phonological loop model, a classical anatomoclinical correlation approach with such cases falls short in telling whether the observed behavior is based on the functions of a neural system resembling that seen in normal subjects challenged with phonological loop tasks or whether different systems have taken over. This is a crucial issue for the cross correlation of normal cognition, normal physiology, and cognitive neuropsychology. Here we describe the functional anatomical patterns of JB, a historical patient originally described by Warrington et al. (1971), a patient with a left temporo-parietal lesion and selective short phonological store deficit. JB was studied with the H2 15 O PET activation technique during a rhyming task, which primarily depends on the rehearsal system of the phonological loop. No residual function was observed in the left temporo-parietal junction, a region previously associated with the phonological buffer of working memory. However, Broca’s area, the major counterpart of the rehearsal system, was the major site of activation during the rhyming task. Specific and autonomous activation of Broca’s area in the absence of afferent inputs from the other major anatomical component of the phonological loop shows that a certain degree of functional independence or modularity exists in this distributed anatomical-cognitive system.

Original languageEnglish
Article number231
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Volume11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 17 2017

Keywords

  • Brain activation
  • FMRI
  • Neuro-reductionism
  • PET
  • Phonological loop
  • Recovery fromaphasia
  • Verbal short-term memory
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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