The neural basis of executive function in working memory: an fMRI study based on individual differences

Neuroimage. 2004 Feb;21(2):623-31. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2003.09.069.


Using fMRI, neural substrates of the executive system were investigated with respect to differences in working memory capacity. To explore the executive control processes, reading span test (RST) and read conditions were performed. Two subject groups were selected: those with large working memory capacities, labeled high-span subjects (HSS) according to the reading span test, and those with small working memory capacities, labeled low-span subjects (LSS). Significant activation was found mainly in three regions in comparison with the control: anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), visual association cortex (VAC) and superior parietal lobule (SPL). For both groups, the fMRI signal intensity increased in ACC and IFG during the RST condition compared to that under the read condition. A group difference was also found in the ACC and IFG region, specifically a significant increase in signal intensity was observed only for the HSS group but not for the LSS group. Behavioral data also showed that the performance was better in HSS than in LSS. Moreover, the cross correlation of signal change between ACC and IFG was higher in HSS than in LSS, indicating that the network system between ACC and IFG was more activated in HSS compared to that of LSS. These results suggest that executive function, that is, working attention controlling system is more active in HSS than in LSS. Moreover, the results confirmed our hypothesis that there is a general neural basis for the central executive function in both RST and previous LST (listening span test) tasks despite differences in modality-specific buffers.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aptitude / physiology
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional*
  • Individuality*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reading*
  • Reference Values
  • Semantics
  • Visual Cortex / physiology