Beta Oscillations in Working Memory, Executive Control of Movement and Thought, and Sensorimotor Function

J Neurosci. 2019 Oct 16;39(42):8231-8238. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1163-19.2019.


Beta oscillations (∼13 to 30 Hz) have been observed during many perceptual, cognitive, and motor processes in a plethora of brain recording studies. Although the function of beta oscillations (hereafter "beta" for short) is unlikely to be explained by any single monolithic description, we here discuss several convergent findings. In prefrontal cortex (PFC), increased beta appears at the end of a trial when working memory information needs to be erased. A similar "clear-out" function might apply during the stopping of action and the stopping of long-term memory retrieval (stopping thoughts), where increased prefrontal beta is also observed. A different apparent role for beta in PFC occurs during the delay period of working memory tasks: it might serve to maintain the current contents and/or to prevent interference from distraction. We confront the challenge of relating these observations to the large literature on beta recorded from sensorimotor cortex. Potentially, the clear-out of working memory in PFC has its counterpart in the postmovement clear-out of the motor plan in sensorimotor cortex. However, recent studies support alternative interpretations. In addition, we flag emerging research on different frequencies of beta and the relationship between beta and single-neuron spiking. We also discuss where beta might be generated: basal ganglia, cortex, or both. We end by considering the clinical implications for adaptive deep-brain stimulation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Beta Rhythm / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Sensorimotor Cortex / physiology*