NIBS as a research tool in studying and enhancing episodic memory in the left prefrontal cortex

Medvedeva, Angela (2019) NIBS as a research tool in studying and enhancing episodic memory in the left prefrontal cortex. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


In the absence of effective treatments for memory disorders including dementia, NIBS methods are being tested for studying and enhancing memory. Anodal transcranial direct-current stimulation (atDCS) is a safe, non-invasive method of stimulating the brain and modulating neural activity through electrodes placed on the scalp. Controversy has surrounded the implementation of atDCS as a research and clinical tool because of inconsistency in effects and a limited understanding of atDCS parameters and mechanisms. Heterogeneity in atDCS parameters across studies could contribute to the inconsistency in effects. Thus, the current research included a systematic ethodological investigation of atDCS as a potential research and clinical tool. Two meta-analyses and a set of five methodological experiments analysed the efficacy of atDCS given a consistent set of parameters. In younger adults, atDCS led to a weak and volatile effect under certain conditions that fluctuated with modifications to verbal stimuli and sample size. While there was a robust improvement in memory following atDCS over the left PFC in Experiment 1, this effect did not remain consistent in direct and conceptual replications. The metaanalyses provided support to this investigation by demonstrating that when effect sizes were pooled together across all eligible published studies, the average effect size was close to zero. When only the studies in the current investigation were pooled together, the effect size was larger but also non-significant. Thus, the results inform future considerations of atDCS as a research and clinical tool and provide recommendations for the limited applications of atDCS with a framework for applying effective parameters that take into account individual differences. Furthermore, through the course of the investigation of atDCS, novel findings about episodic memory processes and neural correlates were revealed, confirming the importance of activity in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) to episodic memory formation. These findings on VLPFC function were further extended with an investigation of the cognitive mechanisms of atDCS effects on VLPFC 3 function in Chapter 6 and an examination of the time window and process in the VLPFC that was most crucial to memory formation with repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) in Chapter 7. Together, the findings contributed to developing a clearer understanding of atDCS effects on episodic memory and the episodic processes that occur in the VLPFC. This understanding can inform future research in NIBS with other cognitive functions and the development of memory nterventions that can target the VLPFC.

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