Sharp emergence of feature-selective sustained activity along the dorsal visual pathway

Nat Neurosci. 2014 Sep;17(9):1255-62. doi: 10.1038/nn.3785. Epub 2014 Aug 10.


Sustained activity encoding visual working memory representations has been observed in several cortical areas of primates. Where along the visual pathways this activity emerges remains unknown. Here we show in macaques that sustained spiking activity encoding memorized visual motion directions is absent in direction-selective neurons in early visual area middle temporal (MT). However, it is robustly present immediately downstream, in multimodal association area medial superior temporal (MST), as well as and in the lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC). This sharp emergence of sustained activity along the dorsal visual pathway suggests a functional boundary between early visual areas, which encode sensory inputs, and downstream association areas, which additionally encode mnemonic representations. Moreover, local field potential oscillations in MT encoded the memorized directions and, in the low frequencies, were phase-coherent with LPFC spikes. This suggests that LPFC sustained activity modulates synaptic activity in MT, a putative top-down mechanism by which memory signals influence stimulus processing in early visual cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Association Learning / physiology
  • Attention / physiology
  • Electrodes, Implanted
  • Macaca mulatta / anatomy & histology
  • Macaca mulatta / physiology*
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Motion Perception / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology
  • Visual Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*