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Spectral Imprints of Working Memory for Everyday Associations in the Frontoparietal Network


How does the human brain rapidly process incoming information in working memory? In growing divergence from a single-region focus on the prefrontal cortex (PFC), recent work argues for emphasis on how distributed neural networks are rapidly coordinated in support of this central neurocognitive function. Previously, we showed that working memory for everyday "what," "where," and "when" associations depends on multiplexed oscillatory systems, in which signals of different frequencies simultaneously link the PFC to parieto-occipital and medial temporal regions, pointing to a complex web of sub-second, bidirectional interactions. Here, we used direct brain recordings to delineate the frontoparietal oscillatory correlates of working memory with high spatiotemporal precision. Seven intracranial patients with electrodes simultaneously localized to prefrontal and parietal cortices performed a visuospatial working memory task that operationalizes the types of identity and spatiotemporal information we encounter every day. First, task-induced oscillations in the same delta-theta (2-7 Hz) and alpha-beta (9-24 Hz) frequency ranges previously identified using scalp electroencephalography (EEG) carried information about the contents of working memory. Second, maintenance was linked to directional connectivity from the parietal cortex to the PFC. However, presentation of the test prompt to cue identity, spatial, or temporal information changed delta-theta coordination from a unidirectional, parietal-led system to a bidirectional, frontoparietal system. Third, the processing of spatiotemporal information was more bidirectional in the delta-theta range than was the processing of identity information, where alpha-beta connectivity did not exhibit sensitivity to the contents of working memory. These findings implicate a bidirectional delta-theta mechanism for frontoparietal control over the contents of working memory.

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