Auditory cortex supports verbal working memory capacity


Working memory (WM) is a fundamental construct of human cognition. The neural basis of auditory WM is thought to reflect a distributed brain network consisting of canonical memory and central executive brain regions including frontal lobe and hippocampus. Yet, the role of auditory (sensory) cortex in supporting active memory representations remains controversial. Here, we recorded neuroelectric activity via electroencephalogram as listeners actively performed an auditory version of the Sternberg memory task. Memory load was taxed by parametrically manipulating the number of auditory tokens (letter sounds) held in memory. Source analysis of scalp potentials showed that sustained neural activity maintained in auditory cortex (AC) prior to memory retrieval closely scaled with behavioral performance. Brain-behavior correlations revealed that lateralized modulations in left (but not right) AC were predictive of individual differences in auditory WM capacity. Our findings confirm a prominent role of AC, traditionally viewed as a sensory-perceptual processor, in actively maintaining memory traces and dictating individual differences in behavioral WM limits.

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