Gamma-band activity in human prefrontal cortex codes for the number of relevant items maintained in working memory

Frédéric Roux, Michael Wibral, Harald M Mohr, Wolf Singer, Peter J Uhlhaas
Journal of Neuroscience 2012 September 5, 32 (36): 12411-20
Previous studies in electrophysiology have provided consistent evidence for a relationship between neural oscillations in different frequency bands and the maintenance of information in working memory (WM). While the amplitude and cross-frequency coupling of neural oscillations have been shown to be modulated by the number of items retained during WM, interareal phase synchronization has been associated with the integration of distributed activity during WM maintenance. Together, these findings provided important insights into the oscillatory dynamics of cortical networks during WM. However, little is known about the cortical regions and frequencies that underlie the specific maintenance of behaviorally relevant information in WM. In the current study, we addressed this question with magnetoencephalography and a delayed match-to-sample task involving distractors in 25 human participants. Using spectral analysis and beamforming, we found a WM load-related increase in the gamma band (60-80 Hz) that was localized to the right intraparietal lobule and left Brodmann area 9 (BA9). WM-load related changes were also detected at alpha frequencies (10-14 Hz) in Brodmann area 6, but did not covary with the number of relevant WM-items. Finally, we decoded gamma-band source activity with a linear discriminant analysis and found that gamma-band activity in left BA9 predicted the number of target items maintained in WM. While the present data show that WM maintenance involves activity in the alpha and gamma band, our results highlight the specific contribution of gamma band delay activity in prefrontal cortex for the maintenance of behaviorally relevant items.

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