Unilateral prefrontal direct current stimulation effects are modulated by working memory load and gender

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Background: Recent studies revealed that anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) may improve verbal working memory (WM) performance in humans. In the present study, we evaluated executive attention, which is the core of WM capacity, considered to be significantly involved in tasks that require active maintenance of memory representations in interference-rich conditions, and is highly dependent on DLPFC function. Objectives: We investigated verbal WM accuracy using a WM task that is highly sensitive to executive attention function. We were interested in how verbal WM accuracy may be affected by WM load, unilateral DLPFC stimulation, and gender, as previous studies showed gender-dependent brain activation during verbal WM tasks. Methods: We utilized a modified verbal n-Back task hypothesized to increase demands on executive attention. We examined "online" WM performance while participants received transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), and implicit learning performance in a post-stimulation WM task. Results: Significant lateralized "online" stimulation effects were found only in the highest WM load condition revealing that males benefit from left DLPFC stimulation, while females benefit from right DLPFC stimulation. High WM load performance in the left DLPFC stimulation was significantly related to post-stimulation recall performance. Conclusions: Our findings support the idea that lateralized stimulation effects in high verbal WM load may be gender-dependent. Further, our post-stimulation results support the idea that increased left hemisphere activity may be important for encoding verbal information into episodic memory as well as for facilitating retrieval of context-specific targets from semantic memory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)440-447
Number of pages8
JournalBrain Stimulation
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2013


  • Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC)
  • Executive attention and verbal WM load
  • Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS)
  • Working memory (WM)


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