Cross-modal involvement of the primary somatosensory cortex in visual working memory: A repetitive TMS study

Giacomo Guidali, Camilla Roncoroni, Costanza Papagno, Nadia Bolognini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent literature suggests that the primary somatosensory cortex (S1), once thought to be a low-level area only modality-specific, is also involved in higher-level, cross-modal, cognitive functions. In particular, electrophysiological studies have highlighted that the cross-modal activation of this area may also extend to visual Working Memory (WM), being part of a mnemonic network specific for the temporary storage and manipulation of visual information concerning bodies and body-related actions. However, the causal recruitment of S1 in the WM network remains speculation. In the present study, by taking advantage of repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS), we look for causal evidence that S1 is implicated in the retention of visual stimuli that are salient for this cortical area. To this purpose, in a first experiment, high-frequency (10 Hz) rTMS was delivered over S1 of the right hemisphere, and over two control sites, the right lateral occipital cortex (LOC) and the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), during the maintenance phase of a high-load delayed match-to-sample task in which body-related visual stimuli (non-symbolic hand gestures) have to be retained. In a second experiment, the specificity of S1 recruitment was deepened by using a version of the delayed match-to-sample task in which visual stimuli depict geometrical shapes (non-body related stimuli). Results show that rTMS perturbation of S1 activity leads to an enhancement of participants’ performance that is selective for body-related visual stimuli; instead, the stimulation of the right LOC and dlPFC does not affect the temporary storage of body-related visual stimuli. These findings suggest that S1 may be recruited in visual WM when information to store (and recall) is salient for this area, corroborating models which suggest the existence of a dedicated mnemonic system for body-related information in which also somatosensory cortices play a key role, likely thanks to their cross-modal (visuo-tactile) properties.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107325
JournalNeurobiology of Learning and Memory
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • Body perception
  • Embodiment
  • Primary somatosensory cortex
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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