Task-dependent effects of intracranial hippocampal stimulation on human memory and hippocampal theta power

Brain Stimul. 2020 May-Jun;13(3):603-613. doi: 10.1016/j.brs.2020.01.013. Epub 2020 Jan 25.


Background: Despite its potential to revolutionize the treatment of memory dysfunction, the efficacy of direct electrical hippocampal stimulation for memory performance has not yet been well characterized. One of the main challenges to cross-study comparison in this area of research is the diversity of the cognitive tasks used to measure memory performance.

Objective: We hypothesized that the tasks that differentially engage the hippocampus may be differentially influenced by hippocampal stimulation and the behavioral effects would be related to the underlying hippocampal activity.

Methods: To investigate this issue, we recorded intracranial EEG from and directly applied stimulation to the hippocampus of 10 epilepsy patients while they performed two different verbal memory tasks - a word pair associative memory task and a single item memory task.

Results: Hippocampal stimulation modulated memory performance in a task-dependent manner, improving associative memory performance, while impairing item memory performance. In addition, subjects with poorer baseline cognitive function improved much more with stimulation. iEEG recordings from the hippocampus during non-stimulation encoding blocks revealed that the associative memory task elicited stronger theta oscillations than did item memory and that stronger theta power was related to memory performance.

Conclusions: We show here for the first time that stimulation-induced associative memory enhancement was linked to increased theta power during retrieval. These results suggest that hippocampal stimulation enhances associative memory but not item memory because it engages more hippocampal theta activity and that, in general, increasing hippocampal theta may provide a neural mechanism for successful memory enhancement.

Keywords: Direct brain stimulation; Hippocampus; Intracranial EEG; Memory modulation; Theta power.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition
  • Deep Brain Stimulation / methods*
  • Epilepsy / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Theta Rhythm*
  • Young Adult