Drexel University, School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems, Philadelphia, PA, USA; University of Pennsylvania, Department of Family and Community Health, Philadelphia, PA, USA; Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Center for Injury Research and Prevention, Philadelphia, PA, USA. Electronic address: [Email]
Speed of Processing (SoP) represents a fundamental limiting step in cognitive performance which may underlie General Intelligence. The measure of SoP is particularly sensitive to aging, neurological or cognitive diseases, and has become a benchmark for diagnosis, cognitive remediation, and enhancement. Neural efficiency of the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex (DLPFC) is proposed to account for individual differences in SoP. However, the mechanisms by which DLPFC efficiency is shaped by training and whether it can be enhanced remain elusive. To address this, we monitored the brain activity of sixteen healthy participants using functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) while practicing a common SoP task (Symbol Digit Substitution Task) across 4 sessions. Furthermore, in each session, participants received counterbalanced excitatory repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) during mid-session breaks. Results indicate a significant involvement of the left-DLPFC in SoP, whose neural efficiency is consistently increased through task practice. Active neurostimulation, but not Sham, significantly enhanced the neural efficiency. These findings suggest a common mechanism by which neurostimulation may aid to accelerate learning.