Working memory subsumes the capability to memorize, retrieve and utilize information for a limited period of time which is essential to many human behaviours. Moreover, impairments of working memory functions may be found in nearly all neurological and psychiatric diseases. To examine what brain regions are commonly and differently active during various working memory tasks, we performed a coordinate-based meta-analysis over 189 fMRI experiments on healthy subjects. The main effect yielded a widespread bilateral fronto-parietal network. Further meta-analyses revealed that several regions were sensitive to specific task components, e.g. Broca's region was selectively active during verbal tasks or ventral and dorsal premotor cortex were preferentially involved in memory for object identity and location, respectively. Moreover, the lateral prefrontal cortex showed a division in a rostral and a caudal part based on differential involvement in task set and load effects. Nevertheless, a consistent but more restricted "core" network emerged from conjunctions across analyses of specific task designs and contrasts. This "core" network appears to comprise the quintessence of regions, which are necessary during working memory tasks. It may be argued that the core regions form a distributed executive network with potentially generalized functions for focussing on competing representations in the brain. The present study demonstrates that meta-analyses are a powerful tool to integrate the data of functional imaging studies on a (broader) psychological construct, probing the consistency across various paradigms as well as the differential effects of different experimental implementations.
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