Technological advances have unraveled the existence of small clusters of co-active neurons in the neocortex. The functional implications of these microcircuits are in large part unexplored. Using a heavily constrained biophysical model of a L5 PFC microcircuit, we recently showed that these structures act as tunable modules of persistent activity, the cellular correlate of working memory. Here, we investigate the mechanisms that underlie persistent activity emergence (ON) and termination (OFF) and search for the minimum network size required for expressing these states within physiological regimes. We show that (a) NMDA-mediated dendritic spikes gate the induction of persistent firing in the microcircuit. (b) The minimum network size required for persistent activity induction is inversely proportional to the synaptic drive of each excitatory neuron. (c) Relaxation of connectivity and synaptic delay constraints eliminates the gating effect of NMDA spikes, albeit at a cost of much larger networks. (d) Persistent activity termination by increased inhibition depends on the strength of the synaptic input and is negatively modulated by dADP. (e) Slow synaptic mechanisms and network activity contain predictive information regarding the ability of a given stimulus to turn ON and/or OFF persistent firing in the microcircuit model. Overall, this study zooms out from dendrites to cell assemblies and suggests a tight interaction between dendritic non-linearities and network properties (size/connectivity) that may facilitate the short-memory function of the PFC.