Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Maintaining visual working memory (VWM) representations recruits a network of brain regions, including the frontal, posterior parietal, and occipital cortices; however, it is unclear to what extent the occipital cortex is engaged in VWM after sensory encoding is completed. Noninvasive brain stimulation data show that stimulation of this region can affect working memory (WM) during the early consolidation time period, but it remains unclear whether it does so by influencing the number of items that are stored or their precision. In this study, we investigated whether single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (spTMS) to the occipital cortex during VWM consolidation affects the quantity or quality of VWM representations. In three experiments, we disrupted VWM consolidation with either a visual mask or spTMS to retinotopic early visual cortex. We found robust masking effects on the quantity of VWM representations up to 200 msec poststimulus offset and smaller, more variable effects on WM quality. Similarly, spTMS decreased the quantity of VWM representations, but only when it was applied immediately following stimulus offset. Like visual masks, spTMS also produced small and variable effects on WM precision. The disruptive effects of both masks and TMS were greatly reduced or entirely absent within 200 msec of stimulus offset. However, there was a reduction in swap rate across all time intervals, which may indicate a sustained role of the early visual cortex in maintaining spatial information.