Variability in neuronal activity in primate cortex during working memory tasks

Neuroscience. 2007 May 25;146(3):1082-108. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2006.12.072. Epub 2007 Apr 9.


Persistent elevated neuronal activity has been identified as the neuronal correlate of working memory. It is generally assumed in the literature and in computational and theoretical models of working memory that memory-cell activity is stable and replicable; however, this assumption may be an artifact of the averaging of data collected across trials, and needs experimental verification. In this study, we introduce a classification scheme to characterize the firing frequency trends of cells recorded from the cortex of monkeys during performance of working memory tasks. We examine the frequency statistics and variability of firing during baseline and memory periods. We also study the behavior of cells on individual trials and across trials, and explore the stability of cellular firing during the memory period. We find that cells from different firing-trend classes possess markedly different statistics. We also find that individual cells show substantial variability in their firing behavior across trials, and that firing frequency also varies markedly over the course of a single trial. Finally, the average frequency distribution is wider, the magnitude of the frequency increases from baseline to memory smaller, and the magnitude of frequency decreases larger than is generally assumed. These results may serve as a guide in the evaluation of current theories of the cortical mechanisms of working memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Electrophysiology
  • Extracellular Space / physiology
  • Haplorhini
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / cytology
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Parietal Lobe / cytology
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / cytology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology