Slow manifolds within network dynamics encode working memory efficiently and robustly

Elham Ghazizadeh, Shi Nung Ching

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Working memory is a cognitive function involving the storage and manipulation of latent information over brief intervals of time, thus making it crucial for context-dependent computation. Here, we use a top-down modeling approach to examine network-level mechanisms of working memory, an enigmatic issue and central topic of study in neuroscience. We optimize thousands of recurrent rate-based neural networks on a working memory task and then perform dynamical systems analysis on the ensuing optimized networks, wherein we find that four distinct dynamical mechanisms can emerge. In particular, we show the prevalence of a mechanism in which memories are encoded along slow stable manifolds in the network state space, leading to a phasic neuronal activation profile during memory periods. In contrast to mechanisms in which memories are directly encoded at stable attractors, these networks naturally forget stimuli over time. Despite this seeming functional disadvantage, they are more efficient in terms of how they leverage their attractor landscape and paradoxically, are considerably more robust to noise. Our results provide new hypotheses regarding how working memory function may be encoded within the dynamics of neural circuits.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1009366
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021


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