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Dynamic links between theta executive functions and alpha storage buffers in auditory and visual working memory

Masahiro Kawasaki, Keiichi Kitajo, Yoko Yamaguchi
European Journal of Neuroscience 2010, 31 (9): 1683-9
20525081
Working memory (WM) tasks require not only distinct functions such as a storage buffer and central executive functions, but also coordination among these functions. Neuroimaging studies have revealed the contributions of different brain regions to different functional roles in WM tasks; however, little is known about the neural mechanism governing their coordination. Electroencephalographic (EEG) rhythms, especially theta and alpha, are known to appear over distributed brain regions during WM tasks, but the rhythms associated with task-relevant regional coupling have not been obtained thus far. In this study, we conducted time-frequency analyses for EEG data in WM tasks that include manipulation periods and memory storage buffer periods. We used both auditory WM tasks and visual WM tasks. The results successfully demonstrated function-specific EEG activities. The frontal theta amplitudes increased during the manipulation periods of both tasks. The alpha amplitudes increased during not only the manipulation but also the maintenance periods in the temporal area for the auditory WM and the parietal area for the visual WM. The phase synchronization analyses indicated that, under the relevant task conditions, the temporal and parietal regions show enhanced phase synchronization in the theta bands with the frontal region, whereas phase synchronization between theta and alpha is significantly enhanced only within the individual areas. Our results suggest that WM task-relevant brain regions are coordinated by distant theta synchronization for central executive functions, by local alpha synchronization for the memory storage buffer, and by theta-alpha coupling for inter-functional integration.

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