Neural mechanisms of information storage in visual short-term memory

Vision Res. 2016 Nov:128:53-67. doi: 10.1016/j.visres.2016.09.010. Epub 2016 Oct 4.


The capacity to briefly memorize fleeting sensory information supports visual search and behavioral interactions with relevant stimuli in the environment. Traditionally, studies investigating the neural basis of visual short term memory (STM) have focused on the role of prefrontal cortex (PFC) in exerting executive control over what information is stored and how it is adaptively used to guide behavior. However, the neural substrates that support the actual storage of content-specific information in STM are more controversial, with some attributing this function to PFC and others to the specialized areas of early visual cortex that initially encode incoming sensory stimuli. In contrast to these traditional views, I will review evidence suggesting that content-specific information can be flexibly maintained in areas across the cortical hierarchy ranging from early visual cortex to PFC. While the factors that determine exactly where content-specific information is represented are not yet entirely clear, recognizing the importance of task-demands and better understanding the operation of non-spiking neural codes may help to constrain new theories about how memories are maintained at different resolutions, across different timescales, and in the presence of distracting information.

Keywords: Cognitive control; Executive control; Sensory recruitment; Short-term memory; Vision; Working memory.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Cognition / physiology
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Humans
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*