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J Neurosci. 2009 Jan 21;29(3):765-74. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4637-08.2009.

Encoding of gustatory working memory by orbitofrontal neurons.

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Department of Psychology and Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-3190, USA.


The content model regarding the functional organization of working memory in prefrontal cortex (PFC) states that different PFC areas encode different types of information in working memory depending on their afferent connections with other brain areas. Previous studies that tested this model focused on visual, auditory and somatosensory information. However, posterior areas processing this information project to widespread and overlapping regions of lateral PFC, making it difficult to establish the veracity of the model. In contrast, gustatory information enters PFC via orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), and so the content model would argue that OFC should be responsible for maintaining gustatory information in working memory. To test this, we recorded the activity of single neurons throughout PFC and gustatory cortex (GUS) from two subjects while they performed a gustatory delayed-match-to-sample task with intervening gustatory distraction. Neurons that encoded the identity of the gustatory stimulus across the delay, consistent with a role in gustatory working memory, were most prevalent in OFC and GUS compared with dorsolateral PFC and ventrolateral PFC. Gustatory information in OFC was more resilient to intervening distraction, paralleling previous findings regarding visual working memory processes in PFC and posterior sensory cortex. Our findings provide support for the content model of working memory organization. Maintaining gustatory information may be one aspect of a wider function for OFC in reward working memory that could contribute to its role in decision-making.

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