Neuroscientists have long tried to uncover the neuronal connectivity and patterns of activity that explain human cognitive behaviors. The prevalent theory of working memory—using information stored in short-term memory to complete a task—is that the brain’s connections that code for the needed information must fire continuously. Now, in a paper published today (December 1) in Science, researchers from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and their colleagues provide evidence for a different theory, in which information can be stored in working memory in an inactive neuronal state. The team’s results suggest that there are multiple ways our brains store short- and longer-term memories, depending on expectations of when that information is likely to be needed.
In prior work, Bradley Postle and colleagues had already hinted that not all working memory information needs to be maintained by neuronal activity. In the new work, the University of Wisconsin–Madison team directly showed that the synapses corresponding to information maintained in short-term memory can be inactive and yet the memory can remain accessible and easily shift into one’s focus of attention
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