Spatially specific working memory activity in the human superior colliculus

Masih Rahmati, Kevin DeSimone, Clayton E. Curtis, Kartik K. Sreenivasan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Theoretically, working memory (WM) representations are encoded by population activity of neurons with distributed tuning across the stored feature. Here, we leverage computational neuroimaging approaches to map the topographic organization of human superior colliculus (SC) and model how population activity in SC encodes WM representations. We first modeled receptive field properties of voxels in SC, deriving a detailed topographic organization resembling that of the primate SC. Neural activity within human (5 male and 1 female) SC persisted throughout a retention interval of several types of modified memory-guided saccade tasks. Assuming an underlying neural architecture of the SC based on its retinotopic organization, we used an encoding model to show that the pattern of activity in human SC represents locations stored in WM. Our tasks and models allowed us to dissociate the locations of visual targets and the motor metrics of memory-guided saccades from the spatial locations stored in WM, thus confirming that human SC represents true WM information. These data have several important implications. They add the SC to a growing number of cortical and subcortical brain areas that form distributed networks supporting WM functions. Moreover, they specify a clear neural mechanism by which topographically organized SC encodes WM representations. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Using computational neuroimaging approaches, we mapped the topographic organization of human superior colliculus (SC) and modeled how population activity in SC encodes working memory (WM) representations, rather than simpler visual or motor properties that have been traditionally associated with the laminar maps in the primate SC. Together, these data both position the human SC into a distributed network of brain areas supporting WM and elucidate the neural mechanisms by which the SC supports WM.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9487-9495
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number49
StatePublished - Dec 2 2020


  • FMRI
  • Human
  • Modeling
  • Retinotopy
  • Saccades
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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