The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex plays a role in self-initiated elaborative cognitive processing during episodic memory encoding: rTMS evidence

PLoS One. 2013 Sep 5;8(9):e73789. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0073789. eCollection 2013.


During episodic memory encoding, elaborative cognitive processing can improve later recall or recognition. While multiple studies examined the neural correlates of encoding strategies, few studies have explicitly focused on the self-initiation of elaborative encoding. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), a method which can transiently disrupt neural activity, was administered during an associative encoding task. rTMS was either applied to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) or to the vertex (a control region not involved in memory encoding) during presentation of pairs of words. Pairs could be semantically related or not related. Two encoding instructions were given, either cueing participants to analyze semantic relationships (cued condition), or to memorize the pair without any specific strategy cues (the self-initiated condition). Participants filled out a questionnaire regarding their use of memory strategies and performed a cued-recall task. We hypothesized that if the DLPFC plays a role in the self-initiation of elaborative encoding we would observe a reduction in memory performance in the self-initiated condition, particularly for related. We found a significant correlation between the effects of rTMS and strategy use, only in the self-initiated condition with related pairs. High strategy users showed reduced performance following DLPFC stimulation, while low strategy users tended to show increased recall following DLPFC stimulation during encoding. These results suggest the left DLPFC may be involved in the self-initiation of memory strategy use, and individuals may utilize different neural networks depending on their use of encoding strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Semantics
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods
  • Visual Perception / physiology
  • Young Adult

Grant support

This study was funded by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, grant number 238617. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.