50 years of mnemonic persistent activity: quo vadis?

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Half a century ago persistent spiking activity in the neocortex was discovered to be a neural substrate of working memory. Since then scientists have sought to understand this core cognitive function across biological and computational levels. Studies are reviewed here that cumulatively lend support to a synaptic theory of recurrent circuits for mnemonic persistent activity that depends on various cellular and network substrates and is mathematically described by a multiple-attractor network model. Crucially, a mnemonic attractor state of the brain is consistent with temporal variations and heterogeneity across neurons in a subspace of population activity. Persistent activity should be broadly understood as a contrast to decaying transients. Mechanisms in the absence of neural firing ('activity-silent state') are suitable for passive short-term memory but not for working memory – which is characterized by executive control for filtering out distractors, limited capacity, and internal manipulation of information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)888-902
Number of pages15
JournalTrends in Neurosciences
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • NMDA receptor
  • activity-silent state
  • cognition
  • diverse interneuron types
  • multiple-attractor network model
  • persistent activity
  • psychiatry
  • short-term memory
  • subspace analysis
  • working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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