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Front Hum Neurosci. 2019 Feb 1;13:19. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2019.00019. eCollection 2019.

The Effects of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) on Working Memory Training in Healthy Young Adults.

Ke Y1, Wang N2, Du J2, Kong L2, Liu S1, Xu M1,2, An X1, Ming D1,2.

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Academy of Medical Engineering and Translational Medicine, Tianjin University, Tianjin, China.
Department of Biomedical Engineering, College of Precision Instruments and Optoelectronics Engineering, Tianjin University, Tianjin, China.


Working memory (WM) is a fundamental cognitive ability to support complex thought, but it is limited in capacity. WM training has shown the potential benefit for those in need of a higher WM ability. Many studies have shown the potential of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to transiently enhance WM performance by delivering a low current to the brain cortex of interest, via electrodes on the scalp. tDCS has also been revealed as a promising intervention to augment WM training in a few studies. However, those few tDCS-paired WM training studies, focused more on the effect of tDCS on WM enhancement and its transferability after training and paid less attention to the variation of cognitive performance during the training procedure. The current study attempted to explore the effect of tDCS on the variation of performance, during WM training, in healthy young adults. All the participants received WM training with the load-adaptive verbal N-back task, for 5 days. During the training procedure, active/sham anodal high-definition tDCS (HD-tDCS) was used to stimulate the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). To examine the training effect, pre- and post-tests were performed, respectively, 1 day before and after the training sessions. At the beginning of each training session, stable-load WM tasks were performed, to examine the performance variation during training. Compared to the sham stimulation, higher learning rates of performance metrics during the training procedure were found when WM training was combined with active anodal HD-tDCS. The performance improvements (post-pre) of the active group, were also found to be higher than those of the sham group and were transferred to a similar untrained WM task. Further analysis revealed a negative relationship between the training improvements and the baseline performance. These findings show the potential that tDCS may be leveraged as an intervention to facilitate WM training, for those in need of a higher WM ability.


cognitive enhancement; cognitive training; transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS); working memory; working memory training

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