Cortical and Subcortical Contributions to Short-Term Memory for Orienting Movements.
Neural activity in frontal cortical areas has been causally linked to short-term memory (STM), but whether this activity is necessary for forming, maintaining, or reading out STM remains unclear. In rats performing a memory-guided orienting task, the frontal orienting fields in cortex (FOF) are considered critical for STM maintenance, and during each trial display a monotonically increasing neural encoding for STM. Here, we transiently inactivated either the FOF or the superior colliculus and found that the resulting impairments in memory-guided orienting performance followed a monotonically decreasing time course, surprisingly opposite to the neural encoding. A dynamical attractor model in which STM relies equally on cortical and subcortical regions reconciled the encoding and inactivation data. We confirmed key predictions of the model, including a time-dependent relationship between trial difficulty and perturbability, and substantial, supralinear, impairment following simultaneous inactivation of the FOF and superior colliculus during memory maintenance.