The neural mechanisms that support working memory (WM) depend on persistent neural activity. Within topographically organized maps of space in dorsal parietal cortex, spatially selective neural activity persists during WM for location. However, to date the necessity of these topographic subregions of human parietal cortex for WM remain unknown. To test the causal relationship of these areas to WM, we compared the performance of patients with lesions to topographically organized parietal cortex to controls on a memory-guided saccade (MGS) task as well as a visually-guided saccade (VGS) task. The MGS task allowed us to measure WM precision continuously with great sensitivity, while the VGS task allowed us to control for any deficits in general spatial or visuomotor processing. Compared to controls, patients generated memory-guided saccades that were significantly slower and less accurate, while visually-guided saccades were unaffected. These results provide key missing evidence for the causal role of topographic areas in human parietal cortex for WM, as well as the neural mechanisms supporting WM.
Working memory (WM) is a critical building block for nearly all high-level cognitive functions. While it is widely acknowledged that WM involves distributed processing throughout the brain, precisely which brain areas are critical for supporting WM remains unknown. Here, we find that lesions to human posterior parietal cortex (PPC) impair the precision of spatial WM, but not visuomotor control. Therefore, human PPC is essential for spatial WM.