Working memory represents the ability of the brain to hold externally or internally driven information for relatively short periods of time1,2. Persistent neuronal activity is the elementary process underlying working memory but its cellular basis remains unknown. The most widely accepted hypothesis is that persistent activity is based on synaptic reverberations in recurrent circuits. The entorhinal cortex in the parahippocampal region is crucially involved in the acquisition, consolidation and retrieval of long-term memory traces for which working memory operations are essential2. Here we show that individual neurons from layer V of the entorhinal cortex—which link the hippocampus to extensive cortical regions3—respond to consecutive stimuli with graded changes in firing frequency that remain stable after each stimulus presentation. In addition, the sustained levels of firing frequency can be either increased or decreased in an input-specific manner. This firing behaviour displays robustness to distractors; it is linked to cholinergic muscarinic receptor activation, and relies on activity-dependent changes of a Ca2+-sensitive cationic current. Such an intrinsic neuronal ability to generate graded persistent activity constitutes an elementary mechanism for working memory.
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We thank G. Buzsáki, M. Petrides and W. A. Suzuki for comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the U.S. National Institutes of Mental Health.
The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.
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