Auditory Working Memory

Auditory working memory (AWM) is the process of keeping representations of auditory objects in mind for short duration when the sounds are not in the environment. This is different from phonological WM as these sounds cannot be assigned a semantic label.

Recent fMRI study on AWM in humans showed a network of activation in auditory cortex, hippocampus, and inferior frontal gyrus. They proposed a system for AWM where sound specific representations in auditory cortex are kept active by projections from hippocampus and inferior frontal cortex.

My MEG project aims to understand the dynamics underlying this proposed system. What mechanisms underlie neural activity during retention? What is the role of hippocampus in AWM?

Here is a visual summary of the first project

In my experiment I contrasted working memory for pitch of a tone against working memory for spacing of a visual sinusoidal grating. Source localisation of induced activity during first second of maintenance of auditory information against silent pre-stimulus baseline showed medial prefrontal theta enhancement, cerebellar beta enhancement, and auditory cortex alpha suppression. Further, I found theta phase coupling between medial prefrontal and left posterior hippocampus and right inferior frontal gyrus in addition to beta phase coupling between cerebellum and left inferior frontal gyrus (Broca's area) which was correlated with subject performance. So I conclude that, representations of sounds are kept active in the auditory cortex through covert rehearsal by Broca's area enabled by focus of attention by the prefrontal Hippocampus network.

Here is a visual summary of the second project

In my experiment where pitch of one of two tones is required to be retained for 12 s, the neuro-magnetic response showed excitation throughout the maintenance phase when compared to silent pre-stimulus baseline which is consistent with existing literature. However, when compared to a control condition that required no memorisation, the response during maintenance was not sustained over the entire duration but instead decayed to control after initial excitation. Source localisation of the evoked response during maintenance against silent pre-stimulus baseline showed activity in the auditory cortex similar to that seen for encoding phase. Similarly, source localisation of the induced response during the first second of maintenance against pre-stimulus baseline showed suppressed alpha oscillations in the auditory cortex, enhanced theta oscillations in the medial prefrontal, enhanced beta in cerebellum, suppressed theta and beta in left parietal cortex. Further I observed enhanced theta phase coupling between medial prefrontal and left anterior STG in the temporal pole . So I conclude that, for the retention of a single tone in memory, representations of the acoustic stimulus are maintained by the activation of the auditory cortex at the start of the retention phase but it is not persistent throughout the delay. Further this activity in the auditory cortex is sustained by the direction of top-down attention via the fronto-parietal network and covert rehearsal by the cerebellum.