Population Dynamics of Early Visual Cortex during Working Memory

J Cogn Neurosci. 2018 Feb;30(2):219-233. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_01196. Epub 2017 Oct 6.


Although the content of working memory (WM) can be decoded from the spatial patterns of brain activity in early visual cortex, how populations encode WM representations remains unclear. Here, we address this limitation by using a model-based approach that reconstructs the feature encoded by population activity measured with fMRI. Using this approach, we could successfully reconstruct the locations of memory-guided saccade goals based on the pattern of activity in visual cortex during a memory delay. We could reconstruct the saccade goal even when we dissociated the visual stimulus from the saccade goal using a memory-guided antisaccade procedure. By comparing the spatiotemporal population dynamics, we find that the representations in visual cortex are stable but can also evolve from a representation of a remembered visual stimulus to a prospective goal. Moreover, because the representation of the antisaccade goal cannot be the result of bottom-up visual stimulation, it must be evoked by top-down signals presumably originating from frontal and/or parietal cortex. Indeed, we find that trial-by-trial fluctuations in delay period activity in frontal and parietal cortex correlate with the precision with which our model reconstructed the maintained saccade goal based on the pattern of activity in visual cortex. Therefore, the population dynamics in visual cortex encode WM representations, and these representations can be sculpted by top-down signals from frontal and parietal cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Parietal Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Retina / physiology
  • Saccades / physiology
  • Visual Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Pathways / diagnostic imaging
  • Visual Pathways / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*