Intrahemispheric theta rhythm desynchronization impairs working memory

Restor Neurol Neurosci. 2017;35(2):147-158. doi: 10.3233/RNN-160714.


Background: There is a growing interest in large-scale connectivity as one of the crucial factors in working memory. Correlative evidence has revealed the anatomical and electrophysiological players in the working memory network, but understanding of the effective role of their connectivity remains elusive.

Objective: In this double-blind, placebo-controlled study we aimed to identify the causal role of theta phase connectivity in visual-spatial working memory.

Methods: The frontoparietal network was over- or de-synchronized in the anterior-posterior direction by multi-electrode, 6 Hz transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS).

Results: A decrease in memory performance and increase in reaction time was caused by frontoparietal intrahemispheric desynchronization. According to the diffusion drift model, this originated in a lower signal-to-noise ratio, known as the drift rate index, in the memory system. The EEG analysis revealed a corresponding decrease in phase connectivity between prefrontal and parietal areas after tACS-driven desynchronization. The over-synchronization did not result in any changes in either the behavioral or electrophysiological levels in healthy participants.

Conclusion: Taken together, we demonstrate the feasibility of manipulating multi-site large-scale networks in humans, and the disruptive effect of frontoparietal desynchronization on theta phase connectivity and visual-spatial working memory.

Keywords: Connectivity; EEG; frontoparietal network; tACS; theta rhythm; working memory.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cortical Synchronization / physiology*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / etiology*
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Theta Rhythm / physiology*
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation / adverse effects*
  • Young Adult