Working memory (WM) is a fundamental construct of human cognition that predicts important faculties such as language abilities and scholastic achievement. The neural basis of auditory WM is thought to reflect a distributed brain network consisting of canonical memory and central executive brain regions including frontal lobe, prefrontal areas, and hippocampus. Yet, the role of auditory (sensory) cortex in supporting active memory representations remains controversial. Here, we recorded neuroelectric activity via EEG as listeners actively performed an auditory version of the Sternberg memory task. Memory load was taxed by parametrically manipulating the number of auditory tokens (letter sounds) held in memory. Source analysis of scalp potentials showed that sustained neural activity maintained in auditory cortex (AC) prior to memory retrieval closely scaled with behavioral performance. Brain-behavior correlations revealed lateralized modulations in left (but not right) AC predicted individual differences in auditory WM capacity. Our findings confirm a prominent role of auditory cortex, traditionally viewed as a sensory-perceptual processor, in actively maintaining memory traces and dictating individual differences in behavioral WM limits.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience