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Hum Brain Mapp. 2009 Oct;30(10):3378-92. doi: 10.1002/hbm.20759.

Oscillatory activity in parietal and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during retention in visual short-term memory: additive effects of spatial attention and memory load.

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  • 1Université de Montréal, MEG Centre, CERNEC, Québec, Canada.


We used whole-head magnetoencephalography to study the representation of objects in visual short-term memory (VSTM) in the human brain. Subjects remembered the location and color of either two or four colored disks that were encoded from the left or right visual field (equal number of distractors in the other visual hemifield). The data were analyzed using time-frequency methods, which enabled us to discover a strong oscillatory activity in the 8-15 Hz band during the retention interval. The study of the alpha power variation revealed two types of responses, in different brain regions. The first was a decrease in alpha power in parietal cortex, contralateral to the stimuli, with no load effect. The second was an increase of alpha power in parietal and lateral prefrontal cortex, as memory load increased, but without interaction with the hemifield of the encoded stimuli. The absence of interaction between side of encoded stimuli and memory load suggests that these effects reflect distinct underlying mechanisms. A novel method to localize the neural generators of load-related oscillatory activity was devised, using cortically-constrained distributed source-localization methods. Some activations were found in the inferior intraparietal sulcus (IPS) and intraoccipital sulcus (IOS). Importantly, strong oscillatory activity was also found in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). Alpha oscillatory activity in DLPFC was synchronized with the activity in parietal regions, suggesting that VSTM functions in the human brain may be implemented via a network that includes bilateral DLPFC and bilateral IOS/IPS as key nodes.

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