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It is unclear to what extent sensory processing areas are involved in the maintenance of sensory information in working memory (WM). Previous studies have thus far relied on finding neural activity in the corresponding sensory cortices, neglecting potential activity-silent mechanisms, such as connectivity-dependent encoding. It has recently been found that visual stimulation during visual WM maintenance reveals WM-dependent changes through a bottom-up neural response. Here, we test whether this impulse response is uniquely visual and sensory-specific. Human participants (both sexes) completed visual and auditory WM tasks while electroencephalography was recorded. During the maintenance period, the WM network was perturbed serially with fixed and task-neutral auditory and visual stimuli. We show that a neutral auditory impulse-stimulus presented during the maintenance of a pure tone resulted in a WM-dependent neural response, providing evidence for the auditory counterpart to the visual WM findings reported previously. Interestingly, visual stimulation also resulted in an auditory WM-dependent impulse response, implicating the visual cortex in the maintenance of auditory information, either directly or indirectly, as a pathway to the neural auditory WM representations elsewhere. In contrast, during visual WM maintenance, only the impulse response to visual stimulation was content-specific, suggesting that visual information is maintained in a sensory-specific neural network, separated from auditory processing areas.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Working memory is a crucial component of intelligent, adaptive behavior. Our understanding of the neural mechanisms that support it has recently shifted: rather than being dependent on an unbroken chain of neural activity, working memory may rely on transient changes in neuronal connectivity, which can be maintained efficiently in activity-silent brain states. Previous work using a visual impulse stimulus to perturb the memory network has implicated such silent states in the retention of line orientations in visual working memory. Here, we show that auditory working memory similarly retains auditory information. We also observed a sensory-specific impulse response in visual working memory, while auditory memory responded bimodally to both visual and auditory impulses, possibly reflecting visual dominance of working memory.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neurosci

Publication Date





671 - 681


EEG, multivariate pattern analysis, sensory working memory