Revisiting the role of persistent neural activity during working memory

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


What are the neural mechanisms underlying working memory (WM)? One influential theory posits that neurons in the lateral prefrontal cortex (lPFC) store WM information via persistent activity. In this review, we critically evaluate recent findings that together indicate that this model of WM needs revision. We argue that sensory cortex, not the lPFC, maintains high-fidelity representations of WM content. By contrast, the lPFC simultaneously maintains representations of multiple goal-related variables that serve to bias stimulus-specific activity in sensory regions. This work highlights multiple neural mechanisms supporting WM, including temporally dynamic population coding in addition to persistent activity. These new insights focus the question on understanding how the mechanisms that underlie WM are related, interact, and are coordinated in the lPFC and sensory cortex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)82-89
Number of pages8
JournalTrends in Cognitive Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2014


  • Decoding
  • FMRI
  • Forward encoding
  • MVPA
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Top down
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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