DLPFC stimulation alters working memory related activations and performance: An interleaved TMS-fMRI study

Brain Stimul. 2022 May-Jun;15(3):823-832. doi: 10.1016/j.brs.2022.05.014. Epub 2022 May 27.


Background: Findings from correlative neuroimaging studies link increased frontoparietal network (FPN) activation and default mode network (DMN) deactivation to enhanced high cognitive demand processing. To causally investigate FPN-DMN contributions to high cognitive demand processing, the current interleaved TMS-fMRI study simultaneously manipulated and indexed neural activity while tracking cognitive performance during high and low cognitive load conditions.

Methods: Twenty participants completed an n-back task consisting of four conditions (0-back, 0-backTMS, 2-back, 2-backTMS) while undergoing interleaved TMS-fMRI. During TMS concurrent with n-back blocks, TMS single pulses were delivered to the left DLPFC at 100% motor-threshold every 2.4s.

Results: TMS delivered during high cognitive load strengthened cognitive processing. FPN node activations and DMN node deactivations were increased in the high versus low cognitive load TMS condition. Contrary to our hypothesis, TMS did not increase high load related activation in FPN nodes. However, as hypothesized, increased DMN node deactivations emerged as a function of TMS during high load (right angular gyrus) and from interactions between cognitive load and TMS (right middle temporal gyrus). Load and TMS combined to dampen activation within the DMN at trend level (p = .058). Deactivation in a dorsomedial DMN node was associated with TMS driven improvements in high load cognitive processing.

Conclusions: Exogenous perturbation of the DLPFC via single pulse TMS amplified DMN node deactivations and enhanced high cognitive demand processing. Neurobehavioral findings linking these effects hint at a promising, albeit preliminary, cognitive control substrate requiring replication in higher-powered studies that use control stimulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods
  • Memory, Short-Term* / physiology