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Working memory

The ability to store information for short periods of time, known as working memory, is vital for many aspects of cognition and behaviour, especially decision-making. Working memory involves the representation of relevant information by combining current sensory evidence and prior knowledge. Exactly how the brain generates, maintains and updates working memory is poorly understood.

Several groups at SWC are tackling different aspects of working memory and its circuit implementation using innate or tailored learned behavioural tasks.

Although the properties of persistent activity that support working memory may differ between brain areas, we are looking to determine whether the circuit mechanisms by which it is generated share common principles. We aim to generate biologically realistic models that capture experimental data and to explain persistent activity dynamics during behaviour. 

Current research

The Akrami lab is working to reveal the neural basis of sensory working memory formation, its maintenance, update and recall, in particular in conjunction with its role in cognitive control. The Hofer and Akrami labs are collaborating to understand the role of thalamocortical circuits in this process.

The Mrsic-Flogel lab is testing the idea that reciprocal interactions between cerebellum and frontal cortex, and between parietal and frontal cortex, interact to maintain working memory of motor plans and behavioural context. The Akrami and Mrsic-Flogel labs are also seeking to determine how different brain regions are recruited to support various timescales of working memory.

The Branco lab is seeking to determine how working memory of shelter location is implemented, updated and maintained as animals explore their environment. The team are also collaborating with the Margrie and Burgess* labs to identify the mechanisms by which working memory guides orienting, by studying interactions between retrosplenial cortex and superior colliculus. 

The O’Keefe lab is studying the role of persistent activity in the amygdala in maintaining the representation of conspecifics during social behaviour, and how it may be generated via reciprocal communication between ventral hippocampus and amygdala circuits.

The Erlich lab is also studying working memory to understand how animals manage competing goals and drives as well processing a barrage of sensory input.

*Neil Burgess is part of our affiliates programme at SWC.