Modulation of motor cortex activity in a visual working memory task of hand images

Publication date: August 2018
Source:Neuropsychologia, Volume 117
Author(s): Alejandro Galvez-Pol, Bettina Forster, Beatriz Calvo-Merino
Recent studies suggest that brain regions engaged in perception are also recruited during the consolidation interval of the percept in working memory (WM). Evidence for this comes from studies showing that maintaining arbitrary visual, auditory, and tactile stimuli in WM elicits recruitment of the corresponding sensory cortices. Here we investigate if encoding and WM maintenance of visually perceived body-related stimuli engage just visual regions, or additional sensorimotor regions that are classically associated with embodiment processes in studies of body and action perception. We developed a novel WM paradigm in which participants were asked to remember body and control non-body-related images. In half of the trials, visual-evoked activity that was time-locked to the sight of the stimuli allowed us to examine visual processing of the stimuli to-be-remembered (visual-only trials). In the other half of the trials we additionally elicited a task irrelevant key pressing during the consolidation interval of the stimuli in WM. This manipulation elicited motor-cortical potentials (MCPs) concomitant to visual processing (visual-motor trials). This design allowed us to dissociate motor activity depicted in the MCPs from concurrent visual processing by subtracting activity from the visual-only trials to the compound activity found in the visual-motor trials. After dissociating the MCPs from concomitant visual activity, the results show that only the body-related images elicited neural recruitment of sensorimotor regions over and above visual effects. Importantly, the number of body stimuli to-be-remembered (memory load) modulated this later motor cortical activity. The current observations link together research in embodiment and WM by suggesting that neural recruitment is driven by the nature of the information embedded in the percept.