14 May 2010
Neurons in a distributed network of cortical and subcortical areas continue to discharge after the presentation and disappearance of stimuli, providing a neural correlate for working memory. While it is thought that the prefrontal cortex plays a central role in this network, the relative contributions of other brain areas are not as well understood. In order to compare the contributions of the dorsolateral prefrontal and posterior parietal cortex, we recorded neurophysiological activity in monkeys trained to perform two different visuo-spatial working memory tasks: a Match/Nonmatch task, and a Spatial Delayed-Match-to-Sample Task. Neurons in both areas exhibited discharges in the delay periods of the tasks that could be classified in two forms. Sustained discharges persisted after the presentation of a stimulus in the receptive field with a constant or declining rate. Anticipatory responses increased in rate during the delay period, often appearing after presentation of a stimulus out of the receptive field. Despite similarities, we uncovered distinct differences between patterns of delay period in each brain area. Only in the prefrontal cortex sustained responses related to the original stimulus survived presentation of a second stimulus, in the context of the Match/Nonmatch task. Our results provide insights on the nature of processing in two areas active during working memory, and on the unique role of the prefrontal cortex in memory maintenance.