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Nat Neurosci. 2017 Feb;20(2):279-286. doi: 10.1038/nn.4459. Epub 2016 Dec 12.

Manipulating stored phonological input during verbal working memory.

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Center for Neural Science, New York University, New York, New York, USA.
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York, USA.
Department of Neurology, NYU School of Medicine, New York, New York, USA.
Department of Neurophysiology, Max-Planck Institute for Brain Research, Frankfurt, Germany.
Department of Neurosurgery, NYU School of Medicine, New York, New York, USA.


Verbal working memory (vWM) involves storing and manipulating information in phonological sensory input. An influential theory of vWM proposes that manipulation is carried out by a central executive while storage is performed by two interacting systems: a phonological input buffer that captures sound-based information and an articulatory rehearsal system that controls speech motor output. Whether, when and how neural activity in the brain encodes these components remains unknown. Here we read out the contents of vWM from neural activity in human subjects as they manipulated stored speech sounds. As predicted, we identified storage systems that contained both phonological sensory and articulatory motor representations. Unexpectedly, however, we found that manipulation did not involve a single central executive but rather involved two systems with distinct contributions to successful manipulation. We propose, therefore, that multiple subsystems comprise the central executive needed to manipulate stored phonological input for articulatory motor output in vWM.

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