Beta Oscillations in Working Memory, Executive Control of Movement and Thought, and Sensorimotor Function

Schmidt, Robert; Herrojo Ruiz, Maria; Kilavik, Bjorg; Lundqvist, Mikael; Starr, Philip and Aron, Adam R. 2019. Beta Oscillations in Working Memory, Executive Control of Movement and Thought, and Sensorimotor Function. Journal of Neuroscience, 39(42), pp. 8231-8238. ISSN 0270-6474 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Beta oscillations (~13 to 30Hz) have been observed during many perceptual, cognitive and motor processes in a plethora of brain recording studies. While the function of beta oscillations (hereafter ‘beta’ for short) is unlikely to be explained by any single monolithic description, we here discuss several convergent findings. In prefrontal cortex, increased beta appears at the end of a trial when working memory information needs to be erased. A similar clear-out function might apply during the stopping of action and the stopping of long-term memory retrieval (stopping thoughts), where increased prefrontal beta is also observed. A different apparent role for beta in prefrontal cortex occurs during the delay period of working memory tasks: it might serve to maintain the current contents and/or to prevent interference from distraction. We confront the challenge of relating these observations to the large literature on beta recorded from sensorimotor cortex. Potentially, the clear-out of working memory in prefrontal cortex has its counterpart in the post-movement clear-out of the motor plan in sensorimotor cortex. However, recent studies support alternative interpretations. In addition, we flag emerging research on different frequencies of beta and the relationship between beta and single neuron spiking. We also discuss where beta might be generated: basal ganglia, cortex, or both. We end by considering the clinical implications for adaptive deep brain stimulation.

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We gratefully acknowledge our funding sources. Schmidt: Human Brain Project (HBP-SGA1, 720270; HBP- SGA2, 785907) and (DFG, EXC 1086); Ruiz: BA SG161006, BIAL R150510 ; Kilavik: ANR-NEUR-05-045-1; CNRS-PEPS; Lundqvist: VR 2018-04197 and NIMH R37MH087027; Starr: UH3 NS100544 and R01 NS090913; Aron: NINDS NS106822 and NIDA DA026452.


Beta oscillations, beta, brain recording studies, sensorimotor cortex, prefrontal cortex, single neuron spiking, adaptive deep brain stimulation

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7 August 2019Accepted
16 October 2019Published

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Date Deposited:

15 Aug 2019 14:45

Last Modified:

15 Jun 2021 07:08

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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