Functional brain microstate predicts the outcome in a visuospatial working memory task

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Humans have limited capacity of processing just up to 4 integrated items of information in the working memory. Thus, it is inevitable to commit more errors when challenged with high memory loads. However, the neural mechanisms that determine the accuracy of response at high memory loads still remain unclear. High temporal resolution of Electroencephalography (EEG) technique makes it the best tool to resolve the temporal dynamics of brain networks. EEG-defined microstate is the quasi-stable scalp electrical potential topography that represents the momentary functional state of brain. Thus, it has been possible to assess the information processing currently performed by the brain using EEG microstate analysis. We hypothesize that the EEG microstate preceding the trial could determine its outcome in a visuospatial working memory (VSWM) task. Twenty-four healthy participants performed a high memory load VSWM task, while their brain activity was recorded using EEG. Four microstate maps were found to represent the functional brain state prior to the trials in the VSWM task. One pre-trial microstate map was found to determine the accuracy of subsequent behavioural response. The intracranial generators of the pre-trial microstate map that determined the response accuracy were localized to the visuospatial processing areas at bilateral occipital, right temporal and limbic cortices. Our results imply that the behavioural outcome in a VSWM task could be determined by the intensity of activation of memory representations in the visuospatial processing brain regions prior to the trial.

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