Spatial working memory and spatial attention rely on common neural processes in the intraparietal sulcus

Timothy J Silk, Mark A Bellgrove, Pia Wrafter, Jason B Mattingley, Ross Cunnington
NeuroImage 2010 November 1, 53 (2): 718-24
Our ability to remember locations in space (spatial working memory) and our ability to direct attention to those locations (spatial attention) are two fundamental and closely related cognitive processes. A growing body of behavioural evidence suggests that spatial working memory and spatial attention share common resources, while neuroimaging studies show some overlap in the neural regions that mediate these two cognitive functions. The current study used fMRI to directly examine the extent to which spatial working memory and spatial attention rely on common underlying neural mechanisms. Twenty healthy participants underwent functional MRI while performing a dual task of spatial working memory incorporating a visual search task during the working memory retention interval. Working memory and visual search task loads were parametrically modulated. A wide network of prefrontal, premotor, and parietal regions showed increasing activity with increased spatial working memory load. Of these areas, part of the right supramarginal gyrus, lying along the intraparietal sulcus, showed a significant interaction such that the neural activity associated with spatial working memory load was significantly attenuated as visual search load in the dual task was increased. This interaction suggests that this part of the supramarginal gyrus, along the intraparietal sulcus, is critical for mediating both spatial working memory and shifts in spatial attention.

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