Visual short-term memory: Activity supporting encoding and maintenance in retinotopic visual cortex
Recent studies have demonstrated that retinotopic cortex maintains information about visual stimuli during retention intervals. However, the process by which transient stimulus-evoked sensory responses are transformed into enduring memory representations is unknown. Here, using fMRI and short-term visual memory tasks optimized for univariate and multivariate analysis approaches, we report differential involvement of human retinotopic areas during memory encoding of the low-level visual feature orientation. All visual areas show weaker responses when memory encoding processes are interrupted, possibly due to effects in orientation-sensitive primary visual cortex (V1) propagating across extrastriate areas. Furthermore, intermediate areas in both dorsal (V3a/b) and ventral (LO1/2) streams are significantly more active during memory encoding compared with non-memory (active and passive) processing of the same stimulus material. These effects in intermediate visual cortex are also observed during memory encoding of a different stimulus feature (spatial frequency), suggesting that these areas are involved in encoding processes on a higher level of representation. Using pattern-classification techniques to probe the representational content in visual cortex during delay periods, we further demonstrate that simply initiating memory encoding is not sufficient to produce long-lasting memory traces. Rather, active maintenance appears to underlie the observed memory-specific patterns of information in retinotopic cortex.
NeuroImage, 2012, 63 (1), 166–178