Shared Representational Formats for Information Maintained in Working Memory and Information Retrieved from Long-Term Memory

Cereb Cortex. 2022 Feb 19;32(5):1077-1092. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhab267.


Current theories propose that the short-term retention of information in working memory (WM) and the recall of information from long-term memory (LTM) are supported by overlapping neural mechanisms in occipital and parietal cortex. However, the extent of the shared representations between WM and LTM is unclear. We designed a spatial memory task that allowed us to directly compare the representations of remembered spatial information in WM and LTM with carefully matched behavioral response precision between tasks. Using multivariate pattern analyses on functional magnetic resonance imaging data, we show that visual memories were represented in a sensory-like code in both memory tasks across retinotopic regions in occipital and parietal cortex. Regions in lateral parietal cortex also encoded remembered locations in both tasks, but in a format that differed from sensory-evoked activity. These results suggest a striking correspondence in the format of representations maintained in WM and retrieved from LTM across occipital and parietal cortex. On the other hand, we also show that activity patterns in nearly all parietal regions, but not occipital regions, contained information that could discriminate between WM and LTM trials. Our data provide new evidence for theories of memory systems and the representation of mnemonic content.

Keywords: fMRI; long-term memory; multivariate pattern analysis; working memory.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Memory, Long-Term*
  • Memory, Short-Term* / physiology
  • Occipital Lobe
  • Parietal Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology