Integration in working memory: A magnetic stimulation study on the role of left anterior prefrontal cortex

Nicola De Pisapia, Marco Sandrini, Todd S Braver, Luigi Cattaneo

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Integration is a fundamental working memory operation, requiring the insertion of information from one task into the execution of another concurrent task. Previous neuroimaging studies have suggested the involvement of left anterior prefrontal cortex (L-aPFC) in relation to working memory integration demands, increasing during presentation of information to be integrated (loading), throughout its maintenance during a secondary task, up to the integration step, and then decreasing afterward (unloading). Here we used short bursts of 5 Hz repetitive Transcranic Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) to modulate L-aPFC activity and to assess its causal role in integration. During experimental blocks, rTMS was applied (N = 10) over L-aPFC or vertex (control site) at different time-points of a task involving integration of a preloaded digit into a sequence of arithmetical steps, and contrasted with a closely matched task without integration demand (segregation). When rTMS was applied during the loading phase, reaction times during secondary task were faster, without significant changes in error rates. RTMS instead worsened performance when applied during information unloading. In contrast, no effects were observed when rTMS was applied during the other phases of integration, or during the segregation condition. These results confirm the hypothesis that L-aPFC is causally and selectively involved in the integration of information in working memory. They additionally suggest that pre-integration loading and post-integration unloading of information involving this area may be active and resource-consuming processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e43731
JournalPLoS One
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prefrontal Cortex
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Reaction Time
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

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