The present study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to delineate cortical networks that are activated when objects or spatial locations encoded either visually (visual encoding group, n = 10) or haptically (haptic encoding group, n = 10) had to be retrieved from long-term memory. Participants learned associations between auditorily presented words and either meaningless objects or locations in a 3-D space. During the retrieval phase one day later, participants had to decide whether two auditorily presented words shared an association with a common object or location. Thus, perceptual stimulation during retrieval was always equivalent, whereas either visually or haptically encoded object or location associations had to be reactivated. Moreover, the number of associations fanning out from each word varied systematically, enabling a parametric increase of the number of reactivated representations. Recall of visual objects predominantly activated the left superior frontal gyrus and the intraparietal cortex, whereas visually learned locations activated the superior parietal cortex of both hemispheres. Retrieval of haptically encoded material activated the left medial frontal gyrus and the intraparietal cortex in the object condition, and the bilateral superior parietal cortex in the location condition. A direct test for modality-specific effects showed that visually encoded material activated more vision-related areas (BA 18/19) and haptically encoded material more motor and somatosensory-related areas. A conjunction analysis identified supramodal and material-unspecific activations within the medial and superior frontal gyrus and the superior parietal lobe including the intraparietal sulcus. These activation patterns strongly support the idea that code-specific representations are consolidated and reactivated within anatomically distributed cell assemblies that comprise sensory and motor processing systems.

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