Electrophysiological signature of working and long-term memory interaction in the human hippocampus

Eur J Neurosci. 2010 Jan;31(1):177-88. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2009.07041.x. Epub 2009 Dec 23.


Recent findings indicate that the hippocampus is not only crucial for long-term memory (LTM) encoding, but plays a role for working memory (WM) as well. In particular, it has been shown that the hippocampus is important for WM maintenance of multiple items or associations between item features. Previous studies using intracranial electroencephalography recordings from the hippocampus of patients with epilepsy revealed slow positive potentials during maintenance of a single item and during LTM encoding, but slow negative potentials during maintenance of multiple items. These findings predict that WM maintenance of multiple items interferes with LTM encoding, because these two processes are associated with slow potentials of opposing polarities in the hippocampus. Here, we tested this idea in a dual-task paradigm involving a LTM encoding task nested into a WM Sternberg task with either a low (one item) or a high (three items) memory load. In the high WM load condition, LTM encoding was significantly impoverished, and slow hippocampal potentials were more negative than in the low WM load condition. Time-frequency analysis revealed that a reduction of slow hippocampal activity in the delta frequency range supported LTM formation in the low load condition, but not during high WM load. Together, these findings indicate that multi-item WM and LTM encoding interfere within the hippocampus.

MeSH terms

  • Delta Rhythm
  • Electrodes, Implanted
  • Electroencephalography / methods
  • Epilepsy
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Time Factors