Theta burst stimulation-induced inhibition of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex reveals hemispheric asymmetry in striatal dopamine release during a set-shifting task – a TMS–[11C]raclopride PET study


Dr A. P. Strafella, as above.


The prefrontostriatal network is considered to play a key role in executive functions. Previous neuroimaging studies have shown that executive processes tested with card-sorting tasks requiring planning and set-shifting [e.g. Montreal-card-sorting-task (MCST)] may engage the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) while inducing dopamine release in the striatum. However, functional imaging studies can only provide neuronal correlates of cognitive performance and cannot establish a causal relation between observed brain activity and task performance. In order to investigate the contribution of the DLPFC during set-shifting and its effect on the striatal dopaminergic system, we applied continuous theta burst stimulation (cTBS) to left and right DLPFC. Our aim was to transiently disrupt its function and to measure MCST performance and striatal dopamine release during [11C]raclopride PET. A significant hemispheric asymmetry was observed. cTBS of the left DLPFC impaired MCST performance and dopamine release in the ipsilateral caudate–anterior putamen and contralateral caudate nucleus, as compared to cTBS of the vertex (control). These effects appeared to be limited only to left DLPFC stimulation while right DLPFC stimulation did not influence task performance or [11C]raclopride binding potential in the striatum. This is the first study showing that cTBS, by disrupting left prefrontal function, may indirectly affect striatal dopamine neurotransmission during performance of executive tasks. This cTBS-induced regional prefrontal effect and modulation of the frontostriatal network may be important for understanding the contribution of hemisphere laterality and its neural bases with regard to executive functions, as well as for revealing the neurochemical substrate underlying cognitive deficits.