Modulating short-term auditory memory with focal transcranial direct current stimulation applied to the supramarginal gyrus

Author Department

Neurology; Healthcare Quality

Document Type

Article, Peer-reviewed

Publication Date



Previous studies have shown that transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) can affect performance by decreasing regional excitability in a brain region that contributes to the task of interest. To our knowledge, no research to date has found both enhancing and diminishing effects on performance, depending upon which polarity of the current is applied. The supramarginal gyrus (SMG) is an ideal brain region for testing tDCS effects because it is easy to identify using the 10-20 electroencephalography coordinate system, and results of neuroimaging studies have implicated the left SMG in short-term memory for phonological and nonphonological sounds. In the present study, we found that applying tDCS to the left SMG affected pitch memory in a manner that depended upon the polarity of stimulation: cathodal tDCS had a negative impact on performance whereas anodal tDCS had a positive impact. These effects were significantly different from sham stimulation, which did not influence performance; they were also specific to the left hemisphere - no effect was found when applying cathodal stimulation to the right SMG - and were unique to pitch memory as opposed to memory for visual shapes. Our results provide further evidence that the left SMG is a nodal point for short-term auditory storage and demonstrate the potential of tDCS to influence cognitive performance and to causally examine hypotheses derived from neuroimaging studies.