Working memory, a theoretical construct from the field of cognitive psychology, is crucial to everyday life. It refers to the ability to temporarily store and manipulate task-relevant information. The identification of genes for working memory might shed light on the molecular mechanisms of this important cognitive ability and—given the genetic overlap between, for example, schizophrenia risk and working-memory ability—might also reveal important candidate genes for psychiatric illness. A number of genome-wide searches for genes that influence working memory have been conducted in recent years. Interestingly, the results of those searches converge on the mediating role of neuronal excitability in working-memory performance, such that the role of each gene highlighted by genome-wide methods plays a part in ion channel formation and/or dopaminergic signaling in the brain, with either direct or indirect influence on dopamine levels in the prefrontal cortex. This result dovetails with animal models of working memory that highlight the role of dynamic network connectivity, as mediated by dopaminergic signaling, in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Future work, which aims to characterize functional variants influencing working-memory ability, might choose to focus on those genes highlighted in the present review and also those networks in which the genes fall. Confirming gene associations and highlighting functional characterization of those associations might have implications for the understanding of normal variation in working-memory ability and also for the development of drugs for mental illness.
- Dynamic network connectivity
- Working memory
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
- Behavioral Neuroscience