Neural dynamics in inferior temporal cortex during a visual working memory task

J Neurosci. 2009 Apr 29;29(17):5494-507. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5785-08.2009.


Intelligent organisms are capable of tracking objects even when they temporarily disappear from sight, a cognitive capacity commonly referred to as visual working memory (VWM). The neural basis of VWM has been the subject of significant scientific debate, with recent work focusing on the relative roles of posterior visual areas, such as the inferior temporal cortex (ITC), and the prefrontal cortex. Here we reexamined the contribution of ITC to VWM by recording from highly selective individual ITC neurons as monkeys engaged in multiple versions of an occlusion-based memory task. As expected, we found strong evidence for a role of ITC in stimulus encoding. We also found that almost half of these selective cells showed stimulus-selective delay period modulation, with a small but significant fraction exhibiting differential responses even in the presence of simultaneously visible interfering information. When we combined the informational content of multiple neurons, we found that the accuracy with which we could decode memory content increased drastically. The memory epoch analyses suggest that behaviorally relevant visual memories were reinstated in ITC. Furthermore, we observed a population-wide enhancement of neuronal response to a match stimulus compared with the same stimulus presented as a nonmatch. The single-cell enhancement preceded any match effects identified in the local field potential, leading us to speculate that enhancement is the result of neural processing local to ITC. Moreover, match enhancement was only later followed by the more commonly observed match suppression. Altogether, the data support the hypothesis that, when a stimulus is held in memory, ITC neurons are actively biased in favor of task-relevant visual representations and that this bias can immediately impact subsequent recognition events.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*