Causal evidence for frontal involvement in memory target maintenance by posterior brain areas during distracter interference of visual working memory
Feredoes, E., Heinen, K., Weiskopf, N., Ruff, C. and Driver, J. (2011) Causal evidence for frontal involvement in memory target maintenance by posterior brain areas during distracter interference of visual working memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108 (42). pp. 17510-17515. ISSN 0027-8424
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1106439108
Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) is recruited during visual working memory (WM) when relevant information must be maintained in the presence of distracting information. The mechanism by which DLPFC might ensure successful maintenance of the contents of WM is, however, unclear; it might enhance neural maintenance of memory targets or suppress processing of distracters. To adjudicate between these possibilities, we applied time-locked transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) during functional MRI, an approach that permits causal assessment of a stimulated brain region's influence on connected brain regions, and evaluated how this influence may change under different task conditions. Participants performed a visual WM task requiring retention of visual stimuli (faces or houses) across a delay during which visual distracters could be present or absent. When distracters were present, they were always from the opposite stimulus category, so that targets and distracters were represented in distinct posterior cortical areas. We then measured whether DLPFC-TMS, administered in the delay at the time point when distracters could appear, would modulate posterior regions representing memory targets or distracters. We found that DLPFC-TMS influenced posterior areas only when distracters were present and, critically, that this influence consisted of increased activity in regions representing the current memory targets. DLPFC-TMS did not affect regions representing current distracters. These results provide a new line of causal evidence for a top-down DLPFC-based control mechanism that promotes successful maintenance of relevant information in WM in the presence of distraction.