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Science 319 (5869): 1543-1546

Copyright © 2008 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Synaptic Theory of Working Memory

Gianluigi Mongillo,1*{dagger} Omri Barak,2* Misha Tsodyks2{ddagger}§

Abstract: It is usually assumed that enhanced spiking activity in the form of persistent reverberation for several seconds is the neural correlate of working memory. Here, we propose that working memory is sustained by calcium-mediated synaptic facilitation in the recurrent connections of neocortical networks. In this account, the presynaptic residual calcium is used as a buffer that is loaded, refreshed, and read out by spiking activity. Because of the long time constants of calcium kinetics, the refresh rate can be low, resulting in a mechanism that is metabolically efficient and robust. The duration and stability of working memory can be regulated by modulating the spontaneous activity in the network.

1 Group for Neural Theory, Département d'Etudes Cognitives, Ecole Normale Supérieure et Collège-de-France, Paris, France.
2 Department of Neurobiology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel.

* These authors contributed equally to this work.

{dagger} Present address: Laboratoire de Neurophysique et Physiologie, Université Paris-Descartes, CNRS-UMR8119, and Franco-Israeli Laboratory of System Neurophysiology and Neurophysics, Paris, France.

{ddagger} CNRS visiting member of the Group for Neural Theory, Ecole Normale Supérieure et Collège-de-France.

§ To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: misha{at}

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