Similarities and differences in the neural correlates of episodic memory retrieval and working memory

Roberto Cabeza, Florin Dolcos, Reiko Graham, Lars Nyberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Functional neuroimaging studies have shown that different cognitive functions activate overlapping brain regions. An activation overlap may occur because a region is involved in operations tapped by different cognitive functions or because the activated area comprises subregions differentially involved in each of the functions. To investigate these issues, we directly compared brain activity during episodic retrieval (ER) and working memory (WM) using event-related functional MRI (fMRI). ER was investigated with a word recognition test, and WM was investigated with a word delayed-response test. Two-phase trials distinguished between retrieval mode and cue-specific aspects of ER, as well as between encoding/maintenance and retrieval aspects of WM. The results revealed a common fronto-parieto-cerebellar network for ER and WM, as well as subregions differentially involved in each function. Specifically, there were two main findings. First, the results differentiated common and specific subregions within the prefrontal cortex: (i) left dorsolateral areas were recruited by both functions, possibly reflecting monitoring operations; (ii) bilateral anterior and ventrolateral areas were more activated during ER than during WM, possibly reflecting retrieval mode and cue-specific ER operations, respectively; and (iii) left posterior/ventral (Broca's area) and bilateral posterior/dorsal areas were more activated during WM than during ER, possibly reflecting phonological and generic WM operations, respectively. Second, hippocampal and parahippocampal regions were activated not only for ER but also for WM. This result suggests that indexing operations mediated by the medial temporal lobes apply to both long-term and short-term memory traces. Overall, our results show that direct cross-function comparisons are critical to understand the role of different brain regions in various cognitive functions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)317-330
Number of pages14
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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