Expertise can increase working memory (WM) performance, but the cognitive and neural mechanisms of these improvements remain unclear. Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to assess the degree to which expertise acquisition is supported by tuning of occipitotemporal object representations and tuning of prefrontal and parietal networks that may support domain-specific WM skills. We trained subjects to become experts in a novel category of complex visual objects and examined brain activity while they performed a WM task with objects from the expert category and from an untrained category. Visual expertise training resulted in improved recognition of expert, compared with untrained objects, and this effect was eliminated in a behavioral experiment by stimulus inversion. These behavioral changes were accompanied by increased recruitment of bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal, posterior parietal, and occipitotemporal cortices during WM encoding and maintenance. Across subjects, behavioral measures of expertise reliably predicted increased activation during maintenance of expert objects in all three regions. These neural expertise effects could not be attributed to differences in low-level stimulus characteristics between the two categories, familiarity with features of expert-domain objects, or familiarity with the WM task. These results are consistent with the idea that visual expertise improves WM performance through tuning of occipitotemporal object representations and through development of lateral prefrontal and posterior parietal networks that mediate the application of domain-specific mnemonic skills.
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