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Front Neurosci. 2017 Apr 7;11:202. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2017.00202. eCollection 2017.

Magnitude Codes for Cross-Modal Working Memory in the Primate Frontal Association Cortex.

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Animal Physiology Unit, Institute of Neurobiology, University of TübingenTübingen, Germany.


Quantitative features of stimuli may be ordered along a magnitude continuum, or line. Magnitude refers to parameters of different types of stimulus properties. For instance, the frequency of a sound relates to sensory and continuous stimulus properties, whereas the number of items in a set is an abstract and discrete property. In addition, within a stimulus property, magnitudes need to be processed not only in one modality, but across multiple modalities. In the sensory domain, for example, magnitude applies to both to the frequency of auditory sounds and tactile vibrations. Similarly, both the number of visual items and acoustic events constitute numerical quantity, or numerosity. To support goal-directed behavior and executive functions across time, magnitudes need to be held in working memory, the ability to briefly retain and manipulate information in mind. How different types of magnitudes across multiple modalities are represented in working memory by single neurons has only recently been explored in primates. These studies show that neurons in the frontal lobe can encode the same magnitude type across sensory modalities. However, while multimodal sensory magnitude in relative comparison tasks is represented by monotonically increasing or decreasing response functions ("summation code"), multimodal numerical quantity in absolute matching tasks is encoded by neurons tuned to preferred numerosities ("labeled-line code"). These findings indicate that most likely there is not a single type of cross-modal working-memory code for magnitudes, but rather a flexible code that depends on the stimulus dimension as well as on the task requirements.


frequency; monkey; neuronal coding; number; pre-SMA; prefrontal cortex; single neurons

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