Spatially global representations in human primary visual cortex during working memory maintenance

J Neurosci. 2009 Dec 2;29(48):15258-65. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4388-09.2009.


Recent studies suggest that visual features are stored in working memory (WM) via sensory recruitment or sustained stimulus-specific patterns of activity in cortical regions that encode memoranda. One important question concerns the spatial extent of sensory recruitment. One possibility is that sensory recruitment is restricted to neurons that are retinotopically mapped to the positions occupied by the remembered items. Alternatively, specific feature values could be represented via a spatially global recruitment of neurons that encode the remembered feature, regardless of the retinotopic position of the remembered stimulus. Here, we evaluated these alternatives by requiring subjects to remember the orientation of a grating presented in the left or right visual field. Functional magnetic resonance imaging and multivoxel pattern analysis were then used to examine feature-specific activations in early visual regions during memory maintenance. Activation patterns that discriminated the remembered feature were found in regions of contralateral visual cortex that corresponded to the retinotopic position of the remembered item, as well as in ipsilateral regions that were not retinotopically mapped to the position of the stored stimulus. These results suggest that visual details are held in WM through a spatially global recruitment of early sensory cortex. This spatially global recruitment may enhance memory precision by facilitating robust population coding of the stored information.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology
  • Eye Movements / physiology
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Orientation
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / blood supply
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Fields / physiology*
  • Visual Pathways / blood supply
  • Visual Pathways / physiology


  • Oxygen