Distinction between perceptual and attentional processing in working memory tasks: a study of phase-locked and induced oscillatory brain dynamics

Marie-Pierre Deiber, Pascal Missonnier, Olivier Bertrand, Gabriel Gold, Lara Fazio-Costa, Vicente IbaƱez, Panteleimon Giannakopoulos
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 2007, 19 (1): 158-72
Working memory involves the short-term storage and manipulation of information necessary for cognitive performance, including comprehension, learning, reasoning and planning. Although electroencephalogram (EEG) rhythms are modulated during working memory, the temporal relationship of EEG oscillations with the eliciting event has not been well studied. In particular, the dynamics of the neural network supporting memory processes may be best captured in induced oscillations, characterized by a loose temporal link with the stimulus. In order to differentiate induced from evoked functional processes, the present study proposes a time-frequency analysis of the 3 to 30 Hz EEG oscillatory activity in a verbal n-back working memory paradigm. Control tasks were designed to identify oscillatory activity related to stimulus presentation (passive task) and focused attention to the stimulus (detection task). Evoked theta activity (4-8 Hz) phase-locked to the visual stimulus was evidenced in the parieto-occipital region for all tasks. In parallel, induced theta activity was recorded in the frontal region for detection and n-back memory tasks, but not for the passive task, suggesting its dependency on focused attention to the stimulus. Sustained induced oscillatory activity was identified in relation to working memory in the theta and beta (15-25 Hz) frequency bands, larger for the highest memory load. Its late occurrence limited to nonmatched items suggests that it could be related to item retention and active maintenance for further task requirements. Induced theta and beta activities displayed respectively a frontal and parietal topographical distribution, providing further functional information on the fronto-posterior network supporting working memory.

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