Working memory revived in older adults by synchronizing rhythmic brain circuits

Nat Neurosci. 2019 May;22(5):820-827. doi: 10.1038/s41593-019-0371-x. Epub 2019 Apr 8.


Understanding normal brain aging and developing methods to maintain or improve cognition in older adults are major goals of fundamental and translational neuroscience. Here we show a core feature of cognitive decline-working-memory deficits-emerges from disconnected local and long-range circuits instantiated by theta-gamma phase-amplitude coupling in temporal cortex and theta phase synchronization across frontotemporal cortex. We developed a noninvasive stimulation procedure for modulating long-range theta interactions in adults aged 60-76 years. After 25 min of stimulation, frequency-tuned to individual brain network dynamics, we observed a preferential increase in neural synchronization patterns and the return of sender-receiver relationships of information flow within and between frontotemporal regions. The end result was rapid improvement in working-memory performance that outlasted a 50 min post-stimulation period. The results provide insight into the physiological foundations of age-related cognitive impairment and contribute to groundwork for future non-pharmacological interventions targeting aspects of cognitive decline.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Cognitive Aging*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / prevention & control
  • Cortical Synchronization*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Gamma Rhythm*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Theta Rhythm*
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation