Different topological properties of EEG-derived networks describe working memory phases as revealed by graph theoretical analysis

Jlenia Toppi, Laura Astolfi, Monica Risetti, Alessandra Anzolin, Silvia E. Kober, Guilherme Wood, Donatella Mattia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Several non-invasive imaging methods have contributed to shed light on the brain mechanisms underlying working memory (WM). The aim of the present study was to depict the topology of the relevant EEG-derived brain networks associated to distinct operations of WM function elicited by the Sternberg Item Recognition Task (SIRT) such as encoding, storage, and retrieval in healthy, middle age (46 ± 5 years) adults. High density EEG recordings were performed in 17 participants whilst attending a visual SIRT. Neural correlates of WM were assessed by means of a combination of EEG signal processing methods (i.e., time-varying connectivity estimation and graph theory), in order to extract synthetic descriptors of the complex networks underlying the encoding, storage, and retrieval phases of WM construct. The group analysis revealed that the encoding phase exhibited a significantly higher small-world topology of EEG networks with respect to storage and retrieval in all EEG frequency oscillations, thus indicating that during the encoding of items the global network organization could “optimally” promote the information flow between WM sub-networks. We also found that the magnitude of such configuration could predict subject behavioral performance when memory load increases as indicated by the negative correlation between Reaction Time and the local efficiency values estimated during the encoding in the alpha band in both 4 and 6 digits conditions. At the local scale, the values of the degree index which measures the degree of in- and out- information flow between scalp areas were found to specifically distinguish the hubs within the relevant sub-networks associated to each of the three different WM phases, according to the different role of the sub-network of regions in the different WM phases. Our findings indicate that the use of EEG-derived connectivity measures and their related topological indices might offer a reliable and yet affordable approach to monitor WM components and thus theoretically support the clinical assessment of cognitive functions in presence of WM decline/impairment, as it occurs after stroke.

Original languageEnglish
Article number637
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Dec 14 2017


  • Brain networks
  • Connectivity
  • EEG
  • Graph theory
  • Sternberg task
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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