Spatial Working Memory in Humans Depends on Theta and High Gamma Synchronization in the Prefrontal Cortex

Curr Biol. 2016 Jun 20;26(12):1513-1521. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.04.035. Epub 2016 May 26.


Previous, albeit correlative, findings have shown that the neural mechanisms underlying working memory critically require cross-structural and cross-frequency coupling mechanisms between theta and gamma neural oscillations. However, the direct causality between cross-frequency coupling and working memory performance remains to be demonstrated. Here we externally modulated the interaction of theta and gamma rhythms in the prefrontal cortex using novel cross-frequency protocols of transcranial alternating current stimulation to affect spatial working memory performance in humans. Enhancement of working memory performance and increase of global neocortical connectivity were observed when bursts of high gamma oscillations (80-100 Hz) coincided with the peaks of the theta waves, whereas superimposition on the trough of the theta wave and low gamma frequency protocols were ineffective. Thus, our results demonstrate the sensitivity of working memory performance and global neocortical connectivity to the phase and rhythm of the externally driven theta-gamma cross-frequency synchronization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cortical Synchronization*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Spatial Memory / physiology*
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation
  • Young Adult