Journal Article

Neural Anatomy of Primary Visual Cortex Limits Visual Working Memory

Johanna Bergmann, Erhan Genç, Axel Kohler, Wolf Singer and Joel Pearson

in Cerebral Cortex

Volume 26, issue 1, pages 43-50
Published in print January 2016 | ISSN: 1047-3211
Published online August 2014 | e-ISSN: 1460-2199 | DOI:
Neural Anatomy of Primary Visual Cortex Limits Visual Working Memory

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  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neuroscience
  • Neuroscience


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Despite the immense processing power of the human brain, working memory storage is severely limited, and the neuroanatomical basis of these limitations has remained elusive. Here, we show that the stable storage limits of visual working memory for over 9 s are bound by the precise gray matter volume of primary visual cortex (V1), defined by fMRI retinotopic mapping. Individuals with a bigger V1 tended to have greater visual working memory storage. This relationship was present independently for both surface size and thickness of V1 but absent in V2, V3 and for non-visual working memory measures. Additional whole-brain analyses confirmed the specificity of the relationship to V1. Our findings indicate that the size of primary visual cortex plays a critical role in limiting what we can hold in mind, acting like a gatekeeper in constraining the richness of working mental function.

Keywords: cortical thickness; early visual cortex; gray matter surface size; individual differences; visual working memory

Journal Article.  7411 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Neurology ; Clinical Neuroscience ; Neuroscience

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