Competing accounts propose that working memory (WM) is subserved either by persistent activity in single neurons or by dynamic (time-varying) activity across a neural population. Here, we compare these hypotheses across four regions of prefrontal cortex (PFC) in an oculomotor-delayed-response task, where an intervening cue indicated the reward available for a correct saccade. WM representations were strongest in ventrolateral PFC neurons with higher intrinsic temporal stability (time-constant). At the population-level, although a stable mnemonic state was reached during the delay, this tuning geometry was reversed relative to cue-period selectivity, and was disrupted by the reward cue. Single-neuron analysis revealed many neurons switched to coding reward, rather than maintaining task-relevant spatial selectivity until saccade. These results imply WM is fulfilled by dynamic, population-level activity within high time-constant neurons. Rather than persistent activity supporting stable mnemonic representations that bridge subsequent salient stimuli, PFC neurons may stabilise a dynamic population-level process supporting WM.
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Sobell Department of Motor Neuroscience, University College London, London WC1N 3BG, UK. firstname.lastname@example.org.