Variability in neuronal activity in primate cortex during working memory tasks

M. Shafi, Y. Zhou, J. Quintana, C. Chow, J. Fuster, M. Bodner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


Persistent elevated neuronal activity has been identified as the neuronal correlate of working memory. It is generally assumed in the literature and in computational and theoretical models of working memory that memory-cell activity is stable and replicable; however, this assumption may be an artifact of the averaging of data collected across trials, and needs experimental verification. In this study, we introduce a classification scheme to characterize the firing frequency trends of cells recorded from the cortex of monkeys during performance of working memory tasks. We examine the frequency statistics and variability of firing during baseline and memory periods. We also study the behavior of cells on individual trials and across trials, and explore the stability of cellular firing during the memory period. We find that cells from different firing-trend classes possess markedly different statistics. We also find that individual cells show substantial variability in their firing behavior across trials, and that firing frequency also varies markedly over the course of a single trial. Finally, the average frequency distribution is wider, the magnitude of the frequency increases from baseline to memory smaller, and the magnitude of frequency decreases larger than is generally assumed. These results may serve as a guide in the evaluation of current theories of the cortical mechanisms of working memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1082-1108
Number of pages27
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 25 2007


  • computational models
  • memory networks
  • monkeys
  • parietal cortex
  • prefrontal cortex
  • spike trains

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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