Prefrontal theta phase-dependent rTMS-induced plasticity of cortical and behavioral responses in human cortex

Pedro Caldana Gordon, Paolo Belardinelli, Matti Stenroos, Ulf Ziemann*, Christoph Zrenner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
81 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Prefrontal theta oscillations are involved in neuronal information transfer and retention. Phases along the theta cycle represent varied excitability states, whereby high-excitability states correspond to high-frequency neuronal activity and heightened capacity for plasticity induction, as demonstrated in animal studies. Human studies corroborate this model and suggest a core role of prefrontal theta activity in working memory (WM). Objective/Hypothesis: We aimed at modulating prefrontal neuronal excitability and WM performance in healthy humans, using real-time EEG analysis for triggering repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) theta-phase synchronized to the left dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. Methods: 16 subjects underwent 3 different rTMS interventions on separate days, with pulses triggered according to the individual's real-time EEG activity: 400 rTMS gamma-frequency (100 Hz) triplet bursts applied during either the negative peak of the prefrontal theta oscillation, the positive peak, or at random phase. Changes in cortical excitability were assessed with EEG responses following single-pulse TMS, and behavioral effects by using a WM task. Results: Negative-peak rTMS increased single-pulse TMS-induced prefrontal theta power and theta-gamma phase-amplitude coupling, and decreased WM response time. In contrast, positive-peak rTMS decreased prefrontal theta power, while no changes were observed after random-phase rTMS. Conclusion: Findings point to the feasibility of EEG-TMS technology in a theta–gamma phase–amplitude coupling mode for effectively modifying WM networks in human prefrontal cortex, with potential for therapeutic applications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)391-402
Number of pages12
JournalBrain Stimulation
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2022
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Brain-state-dependent stimulation
  • Phase-amplitude coupling
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Theta oscillation
  • Working memory


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