Dynamic frontotemporal systems process space and time in working memory

Elizabeth L. Johnson*, Jenna N. Adams, Anne Kristin Solbakk, Tor Endestad, Pål G. Larsson, Jugoslav Ivanovic, Torstein R. Meling, Jack J. Lin, Robert T. Knight

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


How do we rapidly process incoming streams of information in working memory, a cognitive mechanism central to human behavior? Dominant views of working memory focus on the prefrontal cortex (PFC), but human hippocampal recordings provide a neurophysiological signature distinct from the PFC. Are these regions independent, or do they interact in the service of working memory? We addressed this core issue in behavior by recording directly from frontotemporal sites in humans performing a visuospatial working memory task that operationalizes the types of identity and spatiotemporal information we encounter every day. Theta band oscillations drove bidirectional interactions between the PFC and medial temporal lobe (MTL; including the hippocampus). MTL theta oscillations directed the PFC preferentially during the processing of spatiotemporal information, while PFC theta oscillations directed the MTL for all types of information being processed in working memory. These findings reveal an MTL theta mechanism for processing space and time and a domain-general PFC theta mechanism, providing evidence that rapid, dynamic MTL–PFC interactions underlie working memory for everyday experiences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2004274
JournalPLoS biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 30 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)


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