Rehearsal of tactile working memory: Premotor cortex recruits two dissociable neuronal content representations

Hum Brain Mapp. 2021 Jan;42(1):245-258. doi: 10.1002/hbm.25220. Epub 2020 Oct 3.


Recent working memory (WM) research has focused on identifying brain regions that retain different types of mental content. Only few neuroimaging studies have explored the mechanism of attention-based refreshing, which is a type of rehearsal and is thought to implement the dynamic components of WM allowing for update of WM contents. Here, we took advantage of the distinct coding properties of the superior parietal lobe (SPL), which retains spatial layout information, and the right inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), which retains frequency information of vibrotactile stimuli during tactile WM. In an fMRI delayed match-to-sample task, participants had to internally rehearse sequences of spatial layouts or vibratory frequencies. Our results replicate the dissociation of SPL and IFG for the retention of layout and frequency information in terms of activation differences between conditions. Additionally, we found strong premotor cortex (PMC) activation during rehearsal of either stimulus type. To explore interactions between these regions we used dynamic causal modeling and found that activation within the network was best explained by a model that allows the PMC to drive activity in the SPL and IFG during rehearsal. This effect was content-specific, meaning that the PMC showed stronger influence on the SPL during pattern rehearsal and stronger influence on the IFG during frequency rehearsal. In line with previously established PMC contributions to sequence processing, our results suggest that it acts as a content-independent area that flexibly recruits content-specific regions to bring a WM item into the focus of attention during the rehearsal of tactile stimulus sequences.

Keywords: attention-based refreshing; attentional refreshing; attentional refreshment; fMRI; frequency; inferior frontal gyrus; premotor cortex; prioritizing; rehearsal; somatosensory; superior parietal lobe; tactile; working memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Female
  • Fingers / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Motor Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Parietal Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Practice, Psychological*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Touch Perception / physiology*
  • Vibration
  • Young Adult