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Neuroscientist. 2017 Apr;23(2):197-210. doi: 10.1177/1073858416634298.

Working Memory: How Important Is White Matter?

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1 Department of Radiology, Research Division, Center for Biomedical Imaging, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY, USA.


Working memory, the ability to transiently keep, process, and use information as part of ongoing mental processes is an essential feature of cognitive functioning. The largest number of items that people can hold in their working memory, referred to as the capacity of working memory, is limited and varies substantially among individuals. Uncovering the biological factors that underlie these two defining properties of working memory capacity remains a key undertaking of modern cognitive neuroscience since capacity strongly predicts how well we reason, learn, and even do math. In this work we review data that highlights the role white matter, which provides the wiring of the extensive neural networks that activate during working memory tasks, may play in interindividual variations in capacity. We also describe advanced diffusion imaging methods, which may be uniquely suited in capturing those white matter features that are most relevant to capacity. Finally, we discuss several possible mechanisms through which white matter may both contribute to and limit working memory.


axonal density; diffusion imaging; white matter; working memory; working memory capacity

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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