Journal Article

Cerebellar damage produces selective deficits in verbal working memory

Susan M. Ravizza, Cristin A. McCormick, John E. Schlerf, Timothy Justus, Richard B. Ivry and Julie A. Fiez

in Brain

Published on behalf of The Guarantors of Brain

Volume 129, issue 2, pages 306-320
Published in print February 2006 | ISSN: 0006-8950
Published online November 2005 | e-ISSN: 1460-2156 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/brain/awh685
Cerebellar damage produces selective deficits in verbal working memory

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The cerebellum is often active in imaging studies of verbal working memory, consistent with a putative role in articulatory rehearsal. While patients with cerebellar damage occasionally exhibit a mild impairment on standard neuropsychological tests of working memory, these tests are not diagnostic for exploring these processes in detail. The current study was designed to determine whether damage to the cerebellum is associated with impairments on a range of verbal working memory tasks, and if so, under what circumstances. Moreover, we assessed the hypothesis that these impairments are related to impaired rehearsal mechanisms. Patients with damage to the cerebellum (n = 15) exhibited a selective deficit in verbal working memory: spatial forward and backward spans were normal, but forward and backward verbal spans were lower than controls. While the differences were significant, digit spans were relatively preserved, especially in comparison to the dramatic reductions typically observed in classic ‘short-term memory’ patients with perisylvian brain damage. The patients tended to be more impaired on a verbal version compared to a spatial version of a working memory task with a long delay and this impairment was correlated with overall symptom and dysarthria severity. These results are consistent with a contribution of the cerebellum to rehearsal and suggest that inclusion of a delay before recall is especially detrimental in individuals with cerebellar damage. However, when we examined markers of rehearsal (i.e. word-length and articulatory suppression effects) in an immediate serial recall task, we found that qualitative aspects of the patients' rehearsal strategies were unaffected. We propose that the cerebellum may contribute to verbal working memory during the initial phonological encoding and/or by strengthening memory traces rather than by fundamentally subserving covert articulatory rehearsal.

Keywords: verbal working memory; cerebellum; dysarthria; spatial memory; SMA = supplementary motor area

Journal Article.  10571 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Neurology ; Neuroscience

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