Decoding the contents of visual short-term memory from human visual and parietal cortex

J Neurosci. 2012 Sep 19;32(38):12983-9. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0184-12.2012.


How content is stored in the human brain during visual short-term memory (VSTM) is still an open question. Different theories postulate storage of remembered stimuli in prefrontal, parietal, or visual areas. Aiming at a distinction between these theories, we investigated the content-specificity of BOLD signals from various brain regions during a VSTM task using multivariate pattern classification. To participate in memory maintenance, candidate regions would need to have information about the different contents held in memory. We identified two brain regions where local patterns of fMRI signals represented the remembered content. Apart from the previously established storage in visual areas, we also discovered an area in the posterior parietal cortex where activity patterns allowed us to decode the specific stimuli held in memory. Our results demonstrate that storage in VSTM extends beyond visual areas, but no frontal regions were found. Thus, while frontal and parietal areas typically coactivate during VSTM, maintenance of content in the frontoparietal network might be limited to parietal cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Parietal Lobe / blood supply
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time
  • Signal Detection, Psychological
  • Visual Cortex / blood supply
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*


  • Oxygen