Differing Time of Onset of Concurrent TMS-fMRI during Associative Memory Encoding: A Measure of Dynamic Connectivity

Front Hum Neurosci. 2017 Aug 14;11:404. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2017.00404. eCollection 2017.


There has been a distinct shift in neuroimaging from localization of function into a more network based approach focused on connectivity. While fMRI has proven very fruitful for this, the hemodynamic signal is inherently slow which limits the temporal resolution of fMRI-only connectivity measures. The brain, however, works on a time scale of milliseconds. This study utilized concurrent transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)-fMRI in a novel way to obtain measures of dynamic connectivity by measuring changes in fMRI signal amplitude in regions distal to the site of stimulation following differing TMS onset times. Seventeen healthy subjects completed an associative memory encoding task known to involve the DLPFC, viewing pairs of objects which could be semantically related or unrelated. Three pulses of 10 Hz repetitive TMS were applied over the left DLPFC starting either at 200, 600, or 1000 ms after stimulus onset. Associations for related pairs were better remembered than unrelated pairs in a post-scan cued recall test. Differences in neural activity were assessed across different TMS onsets, separately for related and unrelated pairs. Time specific TMS effects were observed in several regions, including those associated with higher-level processing (lateral frontal, anterior cingulate), visual areas (occipital), and regions involved in semantic processing (e.g., left mid-temporal and medial frontal). Activity in the frontal cortex was decreased at 200 ms post-stimulus for unrelated pairs, and 1000 ms post-stimulus for related pairs. This suggests differences in the timing across conditions in which the DLFPC interacts with other PFC regions, consistent with the notion that the DLPFC is facilitating extended semantic processing for related items. This study demonstrates that time-varying TMS onset inside the MRI can be used to reliably measure fast dynamic connectivity with a temporal resolution in the hundreds of milliseconds.

Keywords: TMS-fMRI; cognition; connectivity; dorsolateral prefrontal cortex; memory encoding; temporal; transcranial magnetic stimulation.