Unity and diversity of tonic and phasic executive control components in episodic and working memory

P Marklund, P Fransson, R Cabeza, A Larsson, M Ingvar, L Nyberg
NeuroImage 2007 July 15, 36 (4): 1361-73
The present study aimed to delineate the extent to which unitary executive functions might be shared across the separate domains of episodic and working memory. A mixed blocked/event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) design was employed to assess sustained (tonic control) and transient (phasic control) brain responses arising from incrementing executive demand (source versus item episodic memory - vis-à-vis - two-back versus one-back working memory) using load-dependent activation overlaps as indices of common components. Although an extensive portion of the regional load effects constituted differential control modulations in both sustained and transient responses, commonalities were also found implicating a subset of executive core mechanisms consistent with unitary or domain general control. 'Unitary' control modulations were temporally dissociated into (1) shared tonic components involving medial and lateral prefrontal cortex, striatum, cerebellum and superior parietal cortex, assumed to govern enhanced top-down context processing, monitoring and sustained attention throughout task periods and (2) stimulus-synchronous phasic components encompassing posterior intraparietal sulcus, hypothesized to support dynamic shifting of the 'focus of attention' among internal representations. Taken together, these results converge with theoretical models advocating both unity and diversity among executive control processes.

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