Evidence of a modality-dependent role of the cerebellum in working memory? An fMRI study comparing verbal and abstract n-back tasks

Research Area: Research Year: 2009
Type of Publication: Article
Authors: Hautzel, H; Mottaghy, F M; Specht, Karsten; Müller, H W; Krause, B J
In working memory (WM), functional imaging studies demonstrate cerebellar involvement indicating a cognitive role of the cerebellum. These cognitive contributions were predominantly interpreted as part of the phonological loop within the Baddeley model of WM. However, those underlying investigations were performed in the context of visual verbal WM which could pose a bias when interpreting the results. The aim of this fMRI study was to address the question of whether the cerebellum supports additional aspects of WM in the context of higher cognitive functions. Furthermore, laterality effects were investigated to further disentangle the cerebellar role in the context of the phonological loop and the visuospatial sketchpad. A direct comparison of verbal and abstract visual WM was performed in 17 young volunteers by applying a 2-back paradigm and extracting the % change in BOLD signal from the fMRI data. To minimize potential verbal strategies, Attneave and Arnoult shapes of non-nameable objects were chosen for the abstract condition. The analyses revealed no significant differences in verbal vs. abstract WM. Moreover, no laterality effects were demonstrated in both verbal and abstract WM. These results provide further evidence of a broader cognitive involvement of the cerebellum in WM that is not only confined to the phonological loop but also supports central executive subfunctions. The fact that no lateralization effects are found might be attributed to the characteristics of the n-back paradigm which emphasizes central executive subfunctions over the subsidiary slave systems.
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