Verbal Working memory (vWM) capacity measures the ability to maintain and manipulate verbal information for a short period of time. The specific neural correlates of this construct are still a matter of debate. The aim of this study was to conduct a coordinate-based meta-analysis of 42 fMRI studies on visual vWM in healthy subjects (n = 795, males = 459, females = 325, unknown = 11; age range: 18-75). The studies were obtained after an exhaustive literature search on PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science, and Brainmap database. We analyzed regional activation differences during fMRI tasks with the anisotropic effect-size version of seed-based d mapping software (ES-SDM). The results were further validated by performing jackknife sensitivity analyses and heterogeneity analyses. We investigated the effect of numerous relevant influencing factors by fitting corresponding linear regression models. We isolated consistent activation in a network containing fronto-parietal areas, right cerebellum, and basal ganglia structures. Regarding lateralization, the results pointed toward a bilateral frontal activation, a left-lateralization of parietal regions and a right-lateralization of the cerebellum, indicating that the left-hemisphere concept of vWM should be reconsidered. We also isolated activation in regions important for response inhibition, emphasizing the role of attentional control in vWM. Moreover, we found a significant influence of mean reaction time, load, and age on activation associated with vWM. Activation in left medial frontal gyrus, left precentral gyrus, and left precentral gyrus turned out to be positively associated with mean reaction time whereas load was associated with activation across the PFC, fusiform gyrus, parietal cortex, and parts of the cerebellum. In the latter case activation was mainly detectable in both hemispheres whereas the influence of age became manifest predominantly in the left hemisphere. This led us to conclude that future vWM studies should take these factors into consideration.
Keywords: fMRI; fronto-parietal activation; meta-analysis; neuroimaging; right cerebellum; subcortical areas; verbal working memory.