Controlling working memory operations by selective gating: The roles of oscillations and synchrony
Working memory (WM) is a primary cognitive function that corresponds to the ability to update, stably maintain, and manipulate short-term memory (STM) rapidly to perform ongoing cognitive tasks. A prevalent neural substrate of WM coding is persistent neural activity, the property of neurons to remain active after having been activated by a transient sensory stimulus. This persistent activity allows for online maintenance of memory as well as its active manipulation necessary for task performance. WM is tightly capacity limited. Therefore, selective gating of sensory and internally generated information is crucial for WM function. While the exact neural substrate of selective gating remains unclear, increasing evidence suggests that it might be controlled by modulating ongoing oscillatory brain activity. Here, we review experiments and models that linked selective gating, persistent activity, and brain oscillations, putting them in the more general mechanistic context of WM. We do so by defining several operations necessary for successful WM function and then discussing how such operations may be carried out by mechanisms suggested by computational models. We specifically show how oscillatory mechanisms may provide a rapid and flexible active gating mechanism for WM operations.