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Evidence for Immediate Enhancement of Hippocampal Memory Encoding by Network-Targeted Theta-Burst Stimulation during Concurrent fMRI.

  • Hermiller, Molly S1, 2, 3, 4
  • Chen, Yu Fen5
  • Parrish, Todd B6, 5, 7
  • Voss, Joel L6, 2, 3, 4
  • 1 Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program [email protected]
  • 2 Department of Medical Social Sciences, Feinberg School of Medicine.
  • 3 Ken & Ruth Davee Department of Neurology, Feinberg School of Medicine.
  • 4 Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Feinberg School of Medicine.
  • 5 Department of Radiology, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, 60611.
  • 6 Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program.
  • 7 Department of Biomedical Engineering, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, 60208.
Published Article
Journal of Neuroscience
Society for Neuroscience
Publication Date
Sep 09, 2020
DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0486-20.2020
PMID: 32817326


The hippocampus supports episodic memory via interaction with a distributed brain network. Previous experiments using network-targeted noninvasive brain stimulation have identified episodic memory enhancements and modulation of activity within the hippocampal network. However, mechanistic insights were limited because these effects were measured long after stimulation and therefore could have reflected various neuroplastic aftereffects with extended time courses. In this experiment with human subjects of both sexes, we tested for immediate stimulation impact on encoding-related activity of the hippocampus and immediately adjacent medial-temporal cortex by delivering theta-burst transcranial magnetic stimulation (TBS) concurrent with fMRI, as an immediate impact of stimulation would suggest an influence on neural activity. We reasoned that TBS would be particularly effective for influencing the hippocampus because rhythmic neural activity in the theta band is associated with hippocampal memory processing. First, we demonstrated that it is possible to obtain robust fMRI correlates of task-related activity during concurrent TBS. We then identified immediate effects of TBS on encoding of visual scenes. Brief volleys of TBS targeting the hippocampal network increased activity of the targeted (left) hippocampus during scene encoding and increased subsequent recollection. Stimulation did not influence activity during an intermixed numerical task with no memory demand. Control conditions using beta band and out-of-network stimulation also did not influence hippocampal activity or recollection. TBS targeting the hippocampal network therefore immediately impacted hippocampal memory processing. This suggests direct, beneficial influence of stimulation on hippocampal neural activity related to memory and supports the role of theta-band activity in human episodic memory.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Can noninvasive stimulation directly impact function of indirect, deep-brain targets, such as the hippocampus? We tested this by targeting an accessible region of the hippocampal network via transcranial magnetic stimulation during concurrent fMRI. We reasoned that theta-burst stimulation would be particularly effective for impacting hippocampal function, as this stimulation rhythm should resonate with the endogenous theta-nested-gamma activity prominent in hippocampus. Indeed, theta-burst stimulation targeting the hippocampal network immediately impacted hippocampal activity during encoding, improving memory formation as indicated by enhanced later recollection. Rhythm- and location-control stimulation conditions had no such effects. These findings suggest a direct influence of noninvasive stimulation on hippocampal neural activity and highlight that the theta-burst rhythm is relatively privileged in its ability to influence hippocampal memory function. Copyright © 2020 the authors.

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