Regional specificity and practice: dynamic changes in object and spatial working memory

Brain Res. 2007 Nov 14;1180:78-89. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2007.08.057. Epub 2007 Sep 5.


Working memory (WM) tasks engage a network of brain regions that includes primary, unimodal, and multimodal associative cortices. Little is known, however, about whether task practice influences these types of regions differently. In this experiment, we used event-related fMRI to examine practice-related activation changes in different region types over the course of a scanning session while participants performed a delayed-recognition task. The task contained separate WM processing stages (encoding, maintenance, retrieval) and different materials (object, spatial), which allowed us to investigate the influence of practice on different component processes. We observed significant monotonic decreases, and not increases, in fMRI signal primarily in unimodal and multimodal regions. These decreases occurred during WM encoding and retrieval, but not during maintenance. Finally, regions specific to the type of memoranda (e.g., spatial or object) showed a lesser degree of sensitivity to practice as compared to regions activated by both types of memoranda, suggesting that these regions may be specialized more for carrying out processing within a particular modality than for experience-related flexibility. Overall, these findings indicate that task practice does not have a uniform effect on stages of WM processing, the type of WM memoranda being processed or on different types of brain regions. Instead, regions engaged during WM encoding and retrieval may have greater capacity for functional plasticity than WM maintenance. Additionally, the degree of specialization within brain regions may determine processing efficiency. Unimodal and multimodal regions that participate in both object and spatial processing may be specialized for flexible experience-related change, while those supporting primary sensorimotor processing may operate at optimal efficiency and are less susceptible to practice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Female
  • Form Perception / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Practice, Psychological*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Space Perception / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*