Human dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is not necessary for spatial working memory

Wayne E. Mackey, Orrin Devinsky, Werner K. Doyle, Michael R. Meager, Clayton E. Curtis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A dominant theory, based on electrophysiological and lesion evidence from nonhuman primate studies, posits that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) stores and maintains working memory (WM) representations. Yet, neuroimaging studies have consistently failed to translate these results to humans; these studies normally find that neural activity persists in the human precentral sulcus (PCS) during WM delays. Here, we attempt to resolve this discrepancy. To test the degree to which dlPFC is necessary for WM, we compared the performance of patients with dlPFC lesions and neurologically healthy controls on a memory-guided saccade task that was used in the monkey studies to measure spatial WM. We found that dlPFC damage only impairs the accuracy of memory-guided saccades if the damage impacts the PCS; lesions to dorsolateral dlPFC that spare the PCS have no effect on WM. These results identify the necessary subregion of the frontal cortex forWMand specify how this influential animal model of human cognition must be revised.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2847-2856
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number10
StatePublished - Mar 9 2016


  • Frontal eye field
  • Human
  • Lesion
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Saccade
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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