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J Neurosci. 2008 Apr 2;28(14):3718-28. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0464-08.2008.

Working memory for social cues recruits orbitofrontal cortex and amygdala: a functional magnetic resonance imaging study of delayed matching to sample for emotional expressions.

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  • 1Center for Memory and Brain, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA.


During everyday interactions, we continuously monitor and maintain information about different individuals and their changing emotions in memory. Yet to date, working memory (WM) studies have primarily focused on mechanisms for maintaining face identity, but not emotional expression, and studies investigating the neural basis of emotion have focused on transient activity, not delay related activity. The goal of this functional magnetic resonance imaging study was to investigate WM for two critical social cues: identity and emotion. Subjects performed a delayed match-to-sample task that required them to match either the emotional expression or the identity of a face after a 10 s delay. Neuroanatomically, our predictions focused on the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and the amygdala, as these regions have previously been implicated in emotional processing and long-term memory, and studies have demonstrated sustained OFC and medial temporal lobe activity during visual WM. Consistent with previous studies, transient activity during the sample period representing emotion and identity was found in the superior temporal sulcus and inferior occipital cortex, respectively. Sustained delay-period activity was evident in OFC, amygdala, and hippocampus, for both emotion and identity trials. These results suggest that, although initial processing of emotion and identity is accomplished in anatomically segregated temporal and occipital regions, sustained delay related memory for these two critical features is held by the OFC, amygdala and hippocampus. These regions share rich connections, and have been shown previously to be necessary for binding features together in long-term memory. Our results suggest a role for these regions in active maintenance as well.

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