rTMS evidence for a dissociation in short-term memory for spoken words and nonwords

Nicola J. Savill, Piers Cornelissen, Anja Pahor, Elizabeth Jefferies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
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Differing patterns of verbal short-term memory (STM) impairment have provided unique insights into the relationship between STM and broader language function. Lexicality effects (i.e., better recall for words than nonwords) are larger in patients with phonological deficits following left temporoparietal lesions, and smaller in patients with semantic impairment and anterior temporal damage, supporting linguistic accounts of STM. However, interpretation of these patient dissociations are complicated by (i) non-focal damage and (ii) confounding factors and secondary impairments. This study addressed these issues by examining the impact of inhibitory transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) on auditory-verbal STM performance in healthy individuals. We compared the effects of TMS to left anterior supramarginal gyrus (SMG) and left anterior middle temporal gyrus (ATL) on STM for lists of nonwords and random words. SMG stimulation disrupted nonword recall, in a pattern analogous to that observed in patients, compatible with a role for this site in processing speech sounds without support from long-term lexical-semantic representations. Stimulation of ATL, a semantic site, disrupted the recall of words but not nonwords. A visual pattern memory task indicated that these effects of TMS were restricted to the verbal domain. These data provide convergent evidence for the conclusions of neuropsychological studies that support linguistic accounts of verbal STM.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-22
Early online date6 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019


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