Synchronization of brain electroencephalographic oscillations for different memory loads in Sternberg working memory task.

Simon Brežan, Vita Štukovnik, Jurij Dreo
SB, JD: Faculty of Medicine, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia VŠ: Institute of Clinical Neurophysiology, University Medical Centre Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia Contact e-mail: s_brezan@yahoo.com

Keywords: working memory, electroencephalography (EEG), EEG-coherence, memory load, synchronized oscillations Multiple synchronized (coherent) oscillations in different frequency bands probably represent functional neuronal correlates governing specific mental functions (1, 2). We investigated task-related coherence changes of different EEG frequencies, while subjects performed Sternberg task at different memory loads, thereby studying neurophysiological mechanisms of working memory maintenance. Different studies showed that brain oscillations change with respect to the working memory load (1, 3). Electroencephalogram (EEG) of eleven healthy subjects was recorded while they performed two different serial task conditions, memorizing three- vs. five-letter stimuli. Preliminary results showed that EEG coherence increased during higher memory load (five minus three), in theta (4-7 Hz), alpha 1 (8-10 Hz), alpha 2 (10-12 Hz) and delta (1-4 Hz) frequency bands, with specific long-range spatial patterns of electrode pairs involved. Increases of coherence in theta band were found between frontocentral and temporoparietooccipital brain areas, more in the right hemisphere. In alpha 1 and alpha 2 bands, the coherence increased between temporal and parietooccipital brain areas, again

predominantly in the right hemisphere. Theta and delta bands showed most widespread interaction between anterior and posterior brain areas, but also interhemispheric coherence increased. Demonstrated long-range EEG synchronization is in accordance with recent proposals of other studies that synchronized oscillations could mediate interaction of posterior association cortex, where sensory information is thought to be stored, and frontal cortex, where relevant current information is held and updated (4). Theta coherence increases possibly relate to storage, rehearsal or scanning processes or reflect general mental effort. Delta coherence was proposed to correlate with attention to internal mental processing (2, 4, 5). Alpha 1 and alpha 2 also seem to be involved in working memory or attentional processes (1, 3). Further research is needed to determine the role of interhemispheric synchronization in working memory processes and to explain the lack of expected leftlateralization for the used verbal paradigm. Possible speculation might be that subjects used spatial strategies to perform on the verbal tasks.

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