Oscillatory activity during maintenance of spatial and temporal information in working memory

Brooke M Roberts, Liang-Tien Hsieh, Charan Ranganath
Neuropsychologia 2013, 51 (2): 349-57
Working memory (WM) processes help keep information in an active state so it can be used to guide future behavior. Although numerous studies have investigated brain activity associated with spatial WM in humans and monkeys, little research has focused on the neural mechanisms of WM for temporal order information, and how processing of temporal and spatial information might differ. Available evidence indicates that similar frontoparietal regions are recruited during temporal and spatial WM, although there are data suggesting that they are distinct processes. The mechanisms that allow for differential maintenance of these two types of information are unclear. One possibility is that neural oscillations may differentially contribute to temporal and spatial WM. In the present study, we used scalp electroencephalography (EEG) to compare patterns of oscillatory activity during maintenance of spatial and temporal information in WM. Time-frequency analysis of EEG data revealed enhanced left frontal theta (5-8 Hz), enhanced posterior alpha (9-12 Hz), and enhanced left posterior beta (14-28 Hz) power during the delay period of correct temporal order trials compared to correct spatial trials. In contrast, gamma (30-50 Hz) power at right lateral frontal sites was increased during the delay period of spatial WM trials, as compared to temporal WM trials. The present results are consistent with the idea that neural oscillatory patterns provide distinct mechanisms for the maintenance of temporal and spatial information in WM. Specifically, theta oscillations are most critical for the maintenance of temporal information in WM. Possible roles of higher frequency oscillations in temporal and spatial memory are also discussed.

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