Verbal working memory, that is, the temporary maintenance of linguistic information in an activated state, is typically assumed to rely on phonological representations. Recent evidence from behavioral, neuropsychological, and electrophysiological studies, however, suggests that conceptual-semantic representations may also be maintained in an activated state. We developed a new semantic working memory task that involves the maintenance of a novel conceptual combination. Functional magnetic resonance imaging data acquired during the maintenance of conceptual combinations, relative to an item recognition task without the possibility of conceptual combination, demonstrate increased activation in the posterior left middle and inferior temporal gyri (known to be involved in conceptual representations) and left inferior frontal gyrus (known to be involved in semantic control processes). We suggest that this temporo-frontal system supports maintenance of conceptual information in working memory, with the frontal regions controlling the sustained activation of heteromodal conceptual representations in the inferior temporal cortex.

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Author notes

*Sadly, David Swinney passed away on April 14, 2006.