Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Different cortical dynamics of alpha oscillations (8–13 Hz) have been associated with increased working memory load, which have been mostly interpreted as a neural correlate of functional inhibition. This study aims at determining whether different manifestations of load-dependent amplitude and phase dynamics in the alpha band can coexist over different cortical regions. To address this question, we increased information load by manipulating the number and spatial configuration of domino spots. Time–frequency analysis of EEG source activity revealed (i) load-independent increases of both alpha power and interregional alpha-phase synchrony within task-irrelevant, posterior cortical regions and (ii) load-dependent decreases of alpha power over areas of the left pFC and bilateral posterior parietal cortex (PPC) preceded in time by load-dependent decreases of alpha-phase synchrony between the left pFC and the left PPC. The former results support the role of alpha oscillations in inhibiting irrelevant sensorimotor processing, whereas the latter likely reflect release of parietal task-relevant areas from top–down inhibition with load increase. This interpretation found further support in a significant latency shift of 15 msec from pFC to the PPC. Together, these results suggest that amplitude and phase alpha dynamics in both local and long-range cortical networks reflect different neural mechanisms of top–down control that might be crucial in mediating the different working memory processes.