Reconciling persistent and dynamic hypotheses of working memory coding in prefrontal cortex

Cavanagh SE, Towers JP, Wallis JD, Hunt LT, Kennerley SW

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Received: 12th December 17

Competing accounts propose that working memory (WM) is subserved either by persistent activity in single neurons or by dynamic (time-varying) activity across a neural population. Here we compare these hypotheses across four regions of prefrontal cortex (PFC) in a spatial WM task, where an intervening distractor indicated the reward available for a correct saccade. WM representations were strongest in ventrolateral PFC (VLPFC) neurons with higher intrinsic temporal stability (time-constant). At the population-level, although a stable mnemonic state was reached during the delay, this tuning geometry was reversed relative to cue-period selectivity, and was disrupted by the distractor. Single-neuron analysis revealed many neurons switched to coding reward, rather than maintaining task-relevant spatial selectivity until saccade. These results imply WM is fulfilled by dynamic, population-level activity within high time-constant neurons. Rather than persistent activity supporting stable mnemonic representations that bridge distraction, PFC neurons may stabilise a dynamic population-level process that supports WM.

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This is an abstract of a preprint hosted on an independent third party site. It has not been peer reviewed but is currently under consideration at Nature Communications.

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