Modulation of network excitability by persistent activity: how working memory affects the response to incoming stimuli

PLoS Comput Biol. 2015 Feb 19;11(2):e1004059. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004059. eCollection 2015 Feb.


Persistent activity and match effects are widely regarded as neuronal correlates of short-term storage and manipulation of information, with the first serving active maintenance and the latter supporting the comparison between memory contents and incoming sensory information. The mechanistic and functional relationship between these two basic neurophysiological signatures of working memory remains elusive. We propose that match signals are generated as a result of transient changes in local network excitability brought about by persistent activity. Neurons more active will be more excitable, and thus more responsive to external inputs. Accordingly, network responses are jointly determined by the incoming stimulus and the ongoing pattern of persistent activity. Using a spiking model network, we show that this mechanism is able to reproduce most of the experimental phenomenology of match effects as exposed by single-cell recordings during delayed-response tasks. The model provides a unified, parsimonious mechanistic account of the main neuronal correlates of working memory, makes several experimentally testable predictions, and demonstrates a new functional role for persistent activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Computational Biology
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter


  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter

Grants and funding

EMT and NB acknowledge the financial support of the SI-CODE project of the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) programme within the Seventh Framework Programme for Research of the European Commission, under FET-Open grant number: FP7-284553. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.