Spatiotemporal oscillatory dynamics during the encoding and maintenance phases of a visual working memory task

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54 Scopus citations


Many electrophysiology studies have examined neural oscillatory activity during the encoding, maintenance, and/or retrieval phases of various working memory tasks. Together, these studies have helped illuminate the underlying neural dynamics, although much remains to be discovered and some findings have not replicated in subsequent work. In this study, we examined the oscillatory dynamics that serve visual working memory operations using high-density magnetoencephalography (MEG) and advanced time-frequency and beamforming methodology. Specifically, we recorded healthy adults while they performed a high-load, Sternberg-type working memory task, and focused on the encoding and maintenance phases. We found significant 9-16 Hz desynchronizations in the bilateral occipital cortices, left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), and left superior temporal areas throughout the encoding phase. Our analysis of the dynamics showed that the left DLPFC and superior temporal desynchronization became stronger as a function of time during the encoding period, and was sustained throughout most of the maintenance phase until sharply decreasing in the milliseconds preceding retrieval. In contrast, desynchronization in occipital areas became weaker as a function of time during encoding and eventually evolved into a strong synchronization during the maintenance period, consistent with previous studies. These results provide clear evidence of dynamic network-level processes during the encoding and maintenance phases of working memory, and support the notion of a dynamic pattern of functionally-discrete subprocesses within each working memory phase. The presence of such dynamic oscillatory networks may be a potential source of inconsistent findings in this literature, as neural activity within these networks changes dramatically with time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-130
Number of pages10
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015


  • Electrophysiology
  • MEG
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Network
  • Short-term memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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