The inter-related cognitive constructs of working memory (WM) and processing speed are fundamental components to general intellectual functioning in humans. Importantly, both WM and processing speed are highly susceptible to disruption in cases of brain injury, neurologic illness, and even in normal aging. A goal of this article is to summarize and critique the functional imaging studies of speeded working memory in neurologically impaired populations. This review focuses specifically on the role of the lateral prefrontal cortex in mediating WM performance and integrates the relevant WM literature in healthy adults with the current findings in the clinical literature. One important finding emerging from a summary of this literature is the dissociable contributions made by ventrolateral and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC and DLPFC) in guiding performance on tasks of WM. Throughout this review, it is shown that when cerebral resources are challenged, it is DLPFC, and often right DLPFC specifically, that plays a critical role in modulating WM functioning. In addition, this article will examine the relationship between task performance and brain activation across studies to clarify the role of increased DLPFC activity in clinical samples. Finally, explanations are offered for the observed increased DLPFC activation and the potentially unique role of right DLPFC in mediating WM performance during periods of cerebral challenge.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
- Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
- Clinical Neurology