Distinct neural circuits support transient and sustained processes in prospective memory and working memory

Cereb Cortex. 2009 May;19(5):1208-21. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhn164. Epub 2008 Oct 14.


Current theories are divided as to whether prospective memory (PM) involves primarily sustained processes such as strategic monitoring, or transient processes such as the retrieval of intentions from memory when a relevant cue is encountered. The current study examined the neural correlates of PM using a functional magnetic resonance imaging design that allows for the decomposition of brain activity into sustained and transient components. Performance of the PM task was primarily associated with sustained responses in a network including anterior prefrontal cortex (lateral Brodmann area 10), and these responses were dissociable from sustained responses associated with active maintenance in working memory. Additionally, the sustained responses in anterior prefrontal cortex correlated with faster response times for prospective responses. Prospective cues also elicited selective transient activity in a region of interest along the right middle temporal gyrus. The results support the conclusion that both sustained and transient processes contribute to efficient PM and provide novel constraints on the functional role of anterior PFC in higher-order cognition.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Young Adult