Motor excitability predicts working memory

Motor excitability predicts working memory
Measuring of the motor excitability with transcranial magnetic stimulation Credit: Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Basel

Humans with a high motor excitability have a better working memory than humans with a low excitability. This was shown in a study conducted by scientists from the Transfacultary Research Platform at the University of Basel. By measuring the motor excitability, conclusions can be drawn as to the general cortical excitability – as well as to cognitive performance.

Working memory allows the temporary storage of information such as memorizing a phone number for a short period of time. Studies in animals have shown that processes among others depend on the excitability of neurons in the prefrontal cortex. Moreover, there is evidence that motor neuronal excitability might be related to the neuronal excitability of other cortical regions. Researchers from the Psychiatric University Clinics (UPK Basel) and the Faculty of Psychology in Basel have now studied if the excitability of the motor cortex correlates with working memory performance– results were positive.

"The motor cortical excitability can be easily studied with transcranial magnetic stimulation", says Nathalie Schicktanz, doctoral student and first author of the study. During this procedure, electromagnetic impulses with increasing intensity are applied over the motor cortex. For subjects with high motor excitability already weak impulses are sufficient to trigger certain muscles – such as those of the hand – to show a visible twitch.

Conclusions for other cortical regions

In the present study, that included 188 healthy young subjects, the scientists were able to show that subjects with a high motor excitability had increased working memory performance as compared to subjects with a low excitability. "By measuring the excitability of the , conclusions can be drawn as to the excitability of other cortical areas", says Schicktanz.

"The findings help us to understand the importance of neuronal excitability for cognitive processes in humans", adds Dr. Kyrill Schwegler, co-author of the study. The results might also have important clinical implications, as working memory deficits are a component of many neuropsychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In a next step, the scientists plan to study the relation between neuronal excitability and memory on a molecular level.

The study is part of a project lead by Prof. Dominique de Quervain and Prof. Andreas Papassotiropoulos. The project uses to study the cognitive functions in humans. The goal is to identify the neurobiological and molecular mechanisms of human memory.

More information: Nathalie Schicktanz, Kyrill Schwegler, Matthias Fastenrath, Klara Spalek, Annette Milnik, Andreas Papassotiropoulos, Thomas Nyffeler & Dominique J.-F. de Quervain. "Motor threshold predicts working memory performance in healthy humans." Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, 2013, DOI: 10.1002/acn3.22

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Protecting neurons in neurodegenerative disease

Oct 03, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—Neurobiologist from the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research proved that excitability protects motoneurons from degeneration in amyotropic lateral sclerosis, a rare neurodegenerative ...

Controlling our circadian rhythms

Nov 25, 2013

Most people have experienced the effects of circadian-rhythm disruption, after traveling across time zones or adjusting to a new schedule. To have any hope of modulating our biological "clocks," to combat ...

Brain study explores what makes colors and numbers collide

Nov 17, 2011

Someone with the condition known as grapheme-color synesthesia might experience the number 2 in turquoise or the letter S in magenta. Now, researchers reporting their findings online in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on Nov ...

Recommended for you

Obama's BRAIN initiative gets more than $300 million

1 hour ago

President Barack Obama's initiative to study the brain and improve treatment of conditions like Alzheimer's and autism was given a boost Tuesday with the announcement of more than $300 million in funds.

US aims for traumatic brain injury clinical trial success

13 hours ago

An unprecedented, public-private partnership funded by the Department of Defense (DoD) is being launched to drive the development of better-run clinical trials and may lead to the first successful treatments for traumatic ...

New learning mechanism for individual nerve cells

19 hours ago

The traditional view is that learning is based on the strengthening or weakening of the contacts between the nerve cells in the brain. However, this has been challenged by new research findings from Lund University in Sweden. ...

User comments