The present study investigated whether transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to the parietal cortex improves the performance of healthy persons in a spatial working memory (WM) task. The effect of TMS on the frontal cortex was examined by measuring oxygenated hemoglobin (oxy-Hb) with near-infrared spectroscopy. Fifty-two healthy persons received either 100% resting motor threshold TMS at 5 Hz (real TMS) or sham TMS while engaged in a spatial WM task or a control visuospatial attention task. TMS was applied to either the left or the right parietal cortex during the delay period of the task. Reaction times improved in the spatial WM task, but not in the control task, with real TMS, whereas sham TMS had no effect. This improvement was only observed when TMS was applied to the right parietal cortex. Application of real TMS to the right parietal cortex also significantly increased frontal oxy-Hb levels during the WM task, but reduced oxy-Hb during the control task. These results suggest that TMS to the right parietal cortex may selectively facilitate spatial WM. Hemispheric asymmetry and the frontoparietal network theory may explain the observed effect of right parietal TMS on spatial WM.
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