Prefrontal and parietal cortex in human episodic memory: an interference study by repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation

Simone Rossi, Patrizio Pasqualetti, Giancarlo Zito, Fabrizio Vecchio, Stefano F Cappa, Carlo Miniussi, Claudio Babiloni, Paolo M Rossini
European Journal of Neuroscience 2006, 23 (3): 793-800
Neuroimaging findings, including repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) interference, point to an engagement of prefrontal cortex (PFC) in learning and memory. Whether parietal cortex (PC) activity is causally linked to successful episodic encoding and retrieval is still uncertain. We compared the effects of event-related active or sham rTMS (a rapid-rate train coincident to the very first phases of memoranda presentation) to the left or right intraparietal sulcus, during a standardized episodic memory task of visual scenes, with those obtained in a fully matched sample of subjects who received rTMS on left or right dorsolateral PFC during the same task. In these subjects, specific hemispheric effects of rTMS included interference with encoding after left stimulation and disruption of retrieval after right stimulation. The interference of PC-rTMS on encoding/retrieval performance was negligible, lacking specificity even when higher intensities of stimulation were applied. However, right PC-rTMS of the same intensity lengthened reaction times in the context of a purely attentive visuospatial task. These results suggest that the activity of intraparietal sulci shown in several functional magnetic resonance studies on memory, unlike that of the dorsolateral PFC, is not causally engaged to a useful degree in memory encoding and retrieval of visual scenes. The parietal activations accompanying the memorization processes could reflect the engagement of a widespread brain attentional network, in which interference on a single 'node' is insufficient for an overt disruption of memory performance.

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