Phases to separate memories


Here is the abstract of a paper (here) in PNAS, Phase-dependent neuronal coding of objects in short-term memory, by M. Siegel and others:

The ability to hold multiple objects in memory is fundamental to intelligent behavior, but its neural basis remains poorly understood. It has been suggested that multiple items may be held in memory by oscillatory activity across neuronal populations, but yet there is little direct evidence. Here, we show that neuronal information about two objects held in short-term memory is enhanced at specific phases of underlying oscillatory population activity. We recorded neuronal activity from the prefrontal cortices of monkeys remembering two visual objects over a brief interval. We found that during this memory interval prefrontal population activity was rhythmically synchronized at frequencies around 32 and 3 Hz and that spikes carried the most information about the memorized objects at specific phases. Further, according to their order of presentation, optimal encoding of the first presented object was significantly earlier in the 32 Hz cycle than that for the second object. Our results suggest that oscillatory neuronal synchronization mediates a phase-dependent coding of memorized objects in the prefrontal cortex. Encoding at distinct phases may play a role for disambiguating information about multiple objects in short-term memory.

Does this bring us any closer to understanding short-term memory? I think so, but it is not clear exactly how.

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