Brain Oscillatory Substrates of Visual Short-Term Memory Capacity

Paul Sauseng, Wolfgang Klimesch, Kirstin F. Heise, Walter R. Gruber, Elisa Holz, Ahmed A. Karim, Mark Glennon, Christian Gerloff, Niels Birbaumer, Friedhelm C. Hummel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The amount of information that can be stored in visual short-term memory is strictly limited to about four items [1]. Therefore, memory capacity relies not only on the successful retention of relevant information but also on efficient suppression of distracting information, visual attention, and executive functions [2-5]. However, completely separable neural signatures for these memory capacity-limiting factors remain to be identified. Because of its functional diversity [6-9], oscillatory brain activity may offer a utile solution. In the present study, we show that capacity-determining mechanisms, namely retention of relevant information and suppression of distracting information, are based on neural substrates independent of each other: the successful maintenance of relevant material in short-term memory is associated with cross-frequency phase synchronization between theta (rhythmical neural activity around 5 Hz) and gamma (>50 Hz) oscillations at posterior parietal recording sites. On the other hand, electroencephalographic alpha activity (around 10 Hz) predicts memory capacity based on efficient suppression of irrelevant information in short-term memory. Moreover, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation at alpha frequency can modulate short-term memory capacity by influencing the ability to suppress distracting information. Taken together, the current study provides evidence for a double dissociation of brain oscillatory correlates of visual short-term memory capacity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1846-1852
Number of pages7
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - Nov 17 2009



ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Brain Oscillatory Substrates of Visual Short-Term Memory Capacity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this

    Sauseng, P., Klimesch, W., Heise, K. F., Gruber, W. R., Holz, E., Karim, A. A., Glennon, M., Gerloff, C., Birbaumer, N., & Hummel, F. C. (2009). Brain Oscillatory Substrates of Visual Short-Term Memory Capacity. Current Biology, 19(21), 1846-1852.