Low-frequency oscillations code speech during verbal working memory

Gehrig, J., Michalareas, G., Forster, M.-T., Lei, J., Hok, P., Laufs, H., Senft, C., Seifert, V., Schoffelen, J.-M., Hanslmayr, H., & Kell, C. A. (2019). Low-frequency oscillations code speech during verbal working memory. The Journal of Neuroscience, 39(33), 6498-6512. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0018-19.2019.
The way the human brain represents speech in memory is still unknown. An obvious characteristic of speech is its evolvement over time. During speech processing, neural oscillations are modulated by the temporal properties of the acoustic speech signal, but also acquired knowledge on the temporal structure of language influences speech perception-related brain activity. This suggests that speech could be represented in the temporal domain, a form of representation that the brain also uses to encode autobiographic memories. Empirical evidence for such a memory code is lacking. We investigated the nature of speech memory representations using direct cortical recordings in the left perisylvian cortex during delayed sentence reproduction in female and male patients undergoing awake tumor surgery. Our results reveal that the brain endogenously represents speech in the temporal domain. Temporal pattern similarity analyses revealed that the phase of frontotemporal low-frequency oscillations, primarily in the beta range, represents sentence identity in working memory. The positive relationship between beta power during working memory and task performance suggests that working memory representations benefit from increased phase separation.
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