Gamma Oscillations Underlie the Maintenance of Feature-Specific Information and the Contents of Visual Working Memory

Cereb Cortex. 2015 Oct;25(10):3788-801. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhu263. Epub 2014 Nov 7.


Visual working memory (VWM) sustains information online as integrated object representations. Neuronal mechanisms supporting the maintenance of feature-specific information have remained unidentified. Synchronized oscillations in the gamma band (30-120 Hz) characterize VWM retention and predict task performance, but whether these oscillations are specific to memorized features and VWM contents or underlie general executive VWM functions is not known. In the present study, we investigated whether gamma oscillations reflect the maintenance of feature-specific information in VWM. Concurrent magneto- and electroencephalography was recorded while subjects memorized different object features or feature conjunctions in identical VWM experiments. Using a data-driven source analysis approach, we show that the strength, load-dependence, and source topographies of gamma oscillations in the visual cortex differentiate these memorized features. Load-dependence of gamma oscillations in feature-specific visual and prefrontal areas also predicts VWM accuracy. Furthermore, corroborating the hypothesis that gamma oscillations support the perceptual binding of feature-specific neuronal assemblies, we also show that VWM for color-location conjunctions is associated with stronger gamma oscillations than that for these features separately. Gamma oscillations hence support the maintenance of feature-specific information and reflect VWM contents. The results also suggest that gamma oscillations contribute to feature binding in the formation of memory representations.

Keywords: EEG; MEG; oscillation; representation; working memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Beta Rhythm
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Choice Behavior / physiology
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Gamma Rhythm*
  • Humans
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult