Oscillations in working memory and neural binding: A mechanism for multiple memories and their interactions

by Jason E. Pina, Mark Bodner, Bard Ermentrout

Neural oscillations have been recorded and implicated in many different basic brain and cognitive processes. For example, oscillatory neural activity has been suggested to play a role in binding and in the maintenance of information in working memory. With respect to the latter, the majority of work has focused primarily on oscillations in terms of providing a “code” in working memory. However, oscillations may additionally play a fundamental role by enabling or facilitating essential properties and behaviors that neuronal networks must exhibit in order to produce functional working memory and the processes it supports, such as combining items in memory into bound objects or separating bound objects into distinct items. In the present work, we present a biologically plausible working memory model and demonstrate that specific types of stable oscillatory dynamics that arise may play critical roles in providing mechanisms for working memory and the cognitive functions that it supports. Specifically, these roles include (1) enabling a range of different types of binding, (2) both enabling and limiting capacities of bound and distinct items held active in working memory, and (3) facilitating transitions between active working memory states as required in cognitive function. Several key results arise within the examinations, such as the occurrence of different network capacities for working memory and binding, differences in processing times for transitions in working memory states, and the emergence of a combinatorially rich and complex range of oscillatory states that are sufficient to map onto a wide range of cognitive operations supported by working memory, such as variable binding, reasoning, and language. In particular, we show that these oscillatory states and their transitions can provide a specific instantiation of current established connectionist models in representing these functions. Finally, we further characterize the dependence of the relevant oscillatory solutions on certain critical parameters, including mutual inhibition and synaptic timescales.

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