Refining understanding of working memory buffers through the construct of binding: evidence from a single case informs theory and clinical practise

Pierre-Yves Jonin, Clara Calia, Sophie Muratot, Serge Belliard, Quentin Duché, Emmanuel J Barbeau, Mario A. Parra

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Binding operations carried out in working memory enable the integration of information from different sources during online performance. While available evidence suggests that working memory may involve distinct binding functions, whether or not they all involve the episodic buffer as a cognitive substrate remains unclear. Similarly, knowledge about the neural underpinnings of working memory buffers is limited, more specifically regarding the involvement of medial temporal lobe structures. In the present study, we report on the case of patient KA, with developmental amnesia and selective damage to the whole hippocampal system. We found that KA was unable to hold shape-colours associations (relational binding) in working memory. In contrast, he could hold integrated coloured shapes (conjunctive binding) in two different tasks. Otherwise, and as expected, KA was impaired on three relational memory tasks thought to depend on the hippocampus that are widely used in the early detection of Alzheimer's disease. Our results emphasize a dissociation between two binding processes within working memory, suggesting that the visuo-spatial sketchpad could support conjunctive binding, and may rely upon a large cortical network including sub-hippocampal structures. By contrast, we found evidence for a selective impairment of relational binding in working memory when the hippocampal system is compromised, suggesting that the long-term memory deficit observed in amnesic patients may be related to impaired short-term relational binding at encoding. Finally, these findings may inform research on the early detection of Alzheimer's disease as the preservation of conjunctive binding in KA is in sharp contrast with the impaired performance demonstrated very early in this disease.

Original languageEnglish
Early online date27 Aug 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Aug 2018


  • working memory
  • episodic buffer
  • binding
  • amnesia
  • Alzheimer disease

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