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The neural basis of the central executive system of working memory


WORKING memory refers to a system for temporary storage and manipulation of information in the brain, a function critical for a wide range of cognitive operations. It has been proposed that working memory includes a central executive system (CES) to control attention and information flow to and from verbal and spatial short-term memory buffers1. Although the prefrontal cortex is activated during both verbal and spatial passive working memory tasks2–8, the brain regions involved in the CES component of working memory have not been identified. We have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine brain activation during the concurrent performance of two tasks, which is expected to engage the CES. Activation of the prefrontal cortex was observed when both tasks are performed together, but not when they are performed separately. These results support the view that the prefrontal cortex is involved in human working memory.

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D'Esposito, M., Detre, J., Alsop, D. et al. The neural basis of the central executive system of working memory. Nature 378, 279–281 (1995).

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