The ability to bring to mind a past experience depends on the cognitive and neural processes that are engaged during the experience and that support memory formation. A central and much debated question is whether the processes that underlie rote verbal rehearsal—that is, working memory mechanisms that keep information in mind—impact memory formation and subsequent remembering. The present study used event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore the relation between working memory maintenance operations and long-term memory. Specifically, we investigated whether the magnitude of activation in neural regions supporting the on-line maintenance of verbal codes is predictive of subsequent memory for words that were rote-rehearsed during learning. Furthermore, during rote rehearsal, the extent of neural activation in regions associated with semantic retrieval was assessed to determine the role that incidental semantic elaboration may play in subsequent memory for rote-rehearsed items. Results revealed that (a) the magnitude of activation in neural regions previously associated with phonological rehearsal (left prefrontal, bilateral parietal, supplementary motor, and cerebellar regions) was correlated with subsequent memory, and (b) while rote rehearsal did not—on average—elicit activation in an anterior left prefrontal region associated with semantic retrieval, activation in this region was greater for trials that were subsequently better remembered. Contrary to the prevalent view that rote rehearsal does not impact learning, these data suggest that phonological maintenance mechanisms, in addition to semantic elaboration, support the encoding of an experience such that it can be later remembered.

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