JOURNAL ARTICLE

Alpha power gates relevant information during working memory updating

Peter Manza, Chui Luen Vera Hau, Hoi-Chung Leung
Journal of Neuroscience: the Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience 2014 April 23, 34 (17): 5998-6002
24760858
Human working memory (WM) is inherently limited, so we must filter out irrelevant information in our environment or our mind while retaining limited important relevant contents. Previous work suggests that neural oscillations in the alpha band (8-14 Hz) play an important role in inhibiting incoming distracting information during attention and selective encoding tasks. However, whether alpha power is involved in inhibiting no-longer-relevant content or in representing relevant WM content is still debated. To clarify this issue, we manipulated the amount of relevant/irrelevant information using a task requiring spatial WM updating while measuring neural oscillatory activity via EEG and localized current sources across the scalp using a surface Laplacian transform. An initial memory set of two, four, or six spatial locations was to be memorized over a delay until an updating cue was presented indicating that only one or three locations remained relevant for a subsequent recognition test. Alpha amplitude varied with memory maintenance and updating demands among a cluster of left frontocentral electrodes. Greater postcue alpha power was associated with the high relevant load conditions (six and four dots cued to reduce to three relevant) relative to the lower load conditions (four and two dots reduced to one). Across subjects, this difference in alpha power was correlated with condition differences in performance accuracy. In contrast, no significant effects of irrelevant load were observed. These findings demonstrate that, during WM updating, alpha power reflects maintenance of relevant memory contents rather than suppression of no-longer-relevant memory traces.

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