Working memories have long been thought to be maintained by persistent spiking. However, mounting evidence from multiple-electrode recording (and single-trial analyses) shows that the underlying spiking is better characterized by intermittent bursts of activity. A counterargument suggested this intermittent activity is at odds with observations that spike-time variability reduces during task performance. However, this counterargument rests on assumptions, such as randomness in the timing of the bursts, which may not be correct. Thus, we analyzed spiking and LFPs from monkeys’ prefrontal cortex (PFC) to determine if task-related reductions in variability can co-exist with intermittent spiking. We found that it does because both spiking and associated gamma bursts were task-modulated, not random. In fact, the task-related reduction in spike variability could largely be explained by a related reduction in gamma burst variability. Our results provide further support for the intermittent activity models of working memory as well as novel mechanistic insights into how spike variability is reduced during cognitive tasks.
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