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It is widely believed that persistent neural activity underlies short-term memory. Yet, as we show, the degradation of information stored directly in such networks behaves differently from human short-term memory performance. We build a more general framework where memory is viewed as a problem of passing information through noisy channels whose degradation characteristics resemble those of persistent activity networks. If the brain first encoded the information appropriately before passing the information into such networks, the information can be stored substantially more faithfully. Within this framework, we derive a fundamental lower-bound on recall precision, which declines with storage duration and number of stored items. We show that human performance, though inconsistent with models involving direct (uncoded) storage in persistent activity networks, can be well-fit by the theoretical bound. This finding is consistent with the view that if the brain stores information in patterns of persistent activity, it might use codes that minimize the effects of noise, motivating the search for such codes in the brain.

Original publication

DOI

10.7554/eLife.22225

Type

Journal article

Journal

Elife

Publication Date

07/09/2017

Volume

6

Keywords

computational biology, forgetting, human, information theory, neuroscience, short term memory, systems biology