Are visual working memory and episodic memory distinct processes? Insight from stroke patients by lesion-symptom mapping

Brain Struct Funct. 2021 Jul;226(6):1713-1726. doi: 10.1007/s00429-021-02281-0. Epub 2021 Apr 29.


Working memory and episodic memory are two different processes, although the nature of their interrelationship is debated. As these processes are predominantly studied in isolation, it is unclear whether they crucially rely on different neural substrates. To obtain more insight in this, 81 adults with sub-acute ischemic stroke and 29 elderly controls were assessed on a visual working memory task, followed by a surprise subsequent memory test for the same stimuli. Multivariate, atlas- and track-based lesion-symptom mapping (LSM) analyses were performed to identify anatomical correlates of visual memory. Behavioral results gave moderate evidence for independence between discriminability in working memory and subsequent memory, and strong evidence for a correlation in response bias on the two tasks in stroke patients. LSM analyses suggested there might be independent regions associated with working memory and episodic memory. Lesions in the right arcuate fasciculus were more strongly associated with discriminability in working memory than in subsequent memory, while lesions in the frontal operculum in the right hemisphere were more strongly associated with criterion setting in subsequent memory. These findings support the view that some processes involved in working memory and episodic memory rely on separate mechanisms, while acknowledging that there might also be shared processes.

Keywords: Activated long-term memory; Episodic memory; Lesion-symptom mapping; Multicomponent model; Stroke; Working memory.