Delay activity during visual working memory: A meta-analysis of 30 fMRI experiments

Neuroimage. 2022 Jul 15;255:119204. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2022.119204. Epub 2022 Apr 12.


Visual working memory refers to the temporary maintenance and manipulation of task-related visual information. Recent debate on the underlying neural substrates of visual working memory has focused on the delay period of relevant tasks. Persistent neural activity throughout the delay period has been recognized as a correlate of working memory, yet regions demonstrating sustained hemodynamic responses show inconsistency across individual studies. To develop a more precise understanding of delay-period activations during visual working memory, we conducted a coordinate-based meta-analysis on 30 fMRI experiments involving 515 healthy adults with a mean age of 25.65 years. The main analysis revealed a widespread frontoparietal network associated with delay-period activity, as well as activation in the right inferior temporal cortex. These findings were replicated using different meta-analytical algorithms and were shown to be robust against between-study heterogeneity and publication bias. Further meta-analyses on different subgroups of experiments with specific task demands and stimulus types revealed similar delay-period networks, with activations distributed across the frontal and parietal cortices. The roles of prefrontal regions, posterior parietal regions, and inferior temporal areas are reviewed and discussed in the context of content-specific storage. We conclude that cognitive operations that occur during the unfilled delay period in visual working memory tasks can be flexibly expressed across a frontoparietal-temporal network depending on experimental parameters.

Keywords: Activation likelihood estimation; Content-specific storage; Delay period; Meta-analysis; Seed-based d mapping; Visual working memory; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Memory, Short-Term* / physiology
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology