A single pulse of TMS (spTMS) during the delay period of a double serial retrocuing working-memory task can briefly rescue decodability of an unprioritized memory item (UMI). This physiological phenomenon, which is paralleled in behavior by involuntary retrieval of the UMI, is carried by the beta frequency band, implicating beta-band dynamics in priority coding in working memory. We decomposed EEG data from 12 participants performing double serial retrocuing with concurrent delivery of spTMS using Spatially distributed PhAse Coupling Extraction. This procedure decomposes the scalp-level signal into a set of discrete coupled oscillators, each with a component strength that can vary over time. The decomposition revealed a diversity of low-frequency components, a subset of them strengthening with the onset of the task, and the majority declining in strength across the trial, as well as within each delay period. Results with spTMS revealed no evidence that it works by activating previously “silent” sources; instead, it had the effect of modulating ongoing activity, specifically by exaggerating the within-delay decrease in strength of posterior beta components. Furthermore, the magnitude of the effect of spTMS on the loading strength of a posterior beta component correlated with the disruptive effect of spTMS on performance, a pattern also seen when analyses were restricted to trials with “UMI-lure” memory probes. Rather than reflecting the “activation” of a putatively “activity silent” UMI, these results implicate beta-band dynamics in a mechanism that distinguishes prioritized from unprioritized, and suggest that the effect of spTMS is to disrupt this code.

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