We used magnetoencephalography to characterize the spatiotemporal dynamics of cortical activity during top–down control of working memory (WM). fMRI studies have previously implicated both the frontoparietal and cingulo-opercular networks in control over WM, but their respective contributions are unclear. In our task, spatial cues indicating the relevant item in a WM array occurred either before the memory array or during the maintenance period, providing a direct comparison between prospective and retrospective control of WM. We found that in both cases a frontoparietal network activated following the cue, but following retrocues this activation was transient and was succeeded by a cingulo-opercular network activation. We also characterized the time course of top–down modulation of alpha activity in visual/parietal cortex. This modulation was transient following retrocues, occurring in parallel with the frontoparietal network activation. We suggest that the frontoparietal network is responsible for top–down modulation of activity in sensory cortex during both preparatory attention and orienting within memory. In contrast, the cingulo-opercular network plays a more downstream role in cognitive control, perhaps associated with output gating of memory.

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