On the effectiveness of event-related beta tACS on episodic memory formation and motor cortex excitability

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Background: Transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) is widely used to entrain or modulate brain oscillations in order to investigate causal relationships between oscillations and cognition.

Objective: In a series of experiments we here addressed the question of whether event-related, transient tACS in the beta frequency range can be used to entrain beta oscillations in two different domains: episodic memory formation and motor cortex excitability.

Methods:In experiments 1 and 2, 72 healthy human participants engaged in an incidental encoding task of verbal and non-verbal material while receiving tACS to the left and right inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) at 6.8 Hz, 10.7 Hz, 18.5 Hz, 30 Hz, 48 Hz and sham stimulation for 2s during stimulus presentation.In experiment 3, tACS was administered for 10s to M1 at the individual motor beta frequency of eight subjects. We investigated the relationship between the size of TMS induced MEPs and tACS phase.

Results:Beta tACS did not affect memory performance compared to sham stimulation in experiments 1 and 2. Likewise, in experiment 3, MEP size was not modulated by the tACS phase.

Conclusions:Our findings suggest that event-related, transient tACS in the beta frequency range cannot be used to modulate the formation of episodic memories or motor cortex excitability. These null-results question the effectiveness of event-related tACS to entrain beta oscillations and modulate cognition.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)910-918
JournalBrain stimulation
Issue number5
Early online date30 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2017


  • Beta oscillations , Episodic memory , Motor cortex excitability, Transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS)