The functional role of the basal ganglia (BG) in the gating of suitable motor responses to the cortex is well established. Growing evidence supports an analogous role of the BG during working memory encoding, a task phase in which the "input-gating" of relevant materials (or filtering of irrelevant information) is an important mechanism supporting cognitive capacity and the updating of working memory buffers. One important aspect of stimulus relevance is the novelty of working memory items, a quality that is understudied with respect to its effects on corticostriatal function and connectivity. To this end, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in 74 healthy volunteers performing an established Sternberg working memory task with different task phases (encoding vs. retrieval) and degrees of stimulus familiarity (novel vs. previously trained). Activation analyses demonstrated a highly significant engagement of the anterior striatum, in particular during the encoding of novel working memory items. Dynamic causal modeling (DCM) of corticostriatal circuit connectivity identified a selective positive modulatory influence of novelty encoding on the connection from the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) to the anterior striatum. These data extend prior research by further underscoring the relevance of the BG for human cognitive function and provide a mechanistic account of the DLPFC as a plausible top-down regulatory element of striatal function that may facilitate the "input-gating" of novel working memory materials.
Keywords: Corticostriatal circuits; Dynamic causal modeling; Novelty; fMRI.