Neuroimage. 2013 Dec;83:1098-108 doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2013.07.074. 2013 Aug 03.

Distinct cortical networks activated by auditory attention and working memory load

Huang S, Seidman LJ, Rossi S, Ahveninen J.


Auditory attention and working memory (WM) allow for selection and maintenance of relevant sound information in our minds, respectively, thus underlying goal-directed functioning in everyday acoustic environments. It is still unclear whether these two closely coupled functions are based on a common neural circuit, or whether they involve genuinely distinct subfunctions with separate neuronal substrates. In a full factorial functional MRI (fMRI) design, we independently manipulated the levels of auditory-verbal WM load and attentional interference using modified Auditory Continuous Performance Tests. Although many frontoparietal regions were jointly activated by increases of WM load and interference, there was a double dissociation between prefrontal cortex (PFC) subareas associated selectively with either auditory attention or WM. Specifically, anterior dorsolateral PFC (DLPFC) and the right anterior insula were selectively activated by increasing WM load, whereas subregions of middle lateral PFC and inferior frontal cortex (IFC) were associated with interference only. Meanwhile, a superadditive interaction between interference and load was detected in left medial superior frontal cortex, suggesting that in this area, activations are not only overlapping, but reflect a common resource pool recruited by increased attentional and WM demands. Indices of WM-specific suppression of anterolateral non-primary auditory cortices (AC) and attention-specific suppression of primary AC were also found, possibly reflecting suppression/interruption of sound-object processing of irrelevant stimuli during continuous task performance. Our results suggest a double dissociation between auditory attention and working memory in subregions of anterior DLPFC vs. middle lateral PFC/IFC in humans, respectively, in the context of substantially overlapping circuits.

PMID: 23921102