Individual differences in learning correlate with modulation of brain activity induced by transcranial direct current stimulation.

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Individual differences in learning correlate with modulation of brain activity induced by transcranial direct current stimulation.

PLoS One. 2018;13(5):e0197192

Authors: Falcone B, Wada A, Parasuraman R, Callan DE

Abstract
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has been shown to enhance cognitive performance on a variety of tasks. It is hypothesized that tDCS enhances performance by affecting task related cortical excitability changes in networks underlying or connected to the site of stimulation facilitating long term potentiation. However, many recent studies have called into question the reliability and efficacy of tDCS to induce modulatory changes in brain activity. In this study, our goal is to investigate the individual differences in tDCS induced modulatory effects on brain activity related to the degree of enhancement in performance, providing insight into this lack of reliability. In accomplishing this goal, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) concurrently with tDCS stimulation (1 mA, 30 minutes duration) using a visual search task simulating real world conditions. The experiment consisted of three fMRI sessions: pre-training (no performance feedback), training (performance feedback which included response accuracy and target location and either real tDCS or sham stimulation given), and post-training (no performance feedback). The right posterior parietal cortex was selected as the site of anodal tDCS based on its known role in visual search and spatial attention processing. Our results identified a region in the right precentral gyrus, known to be involved with visual spatial attention and orienting, that showed tDCS induced task related changes in cortical excitability that were associated with individual differences in improved performance. This same region showed greater activity during the training session for target feedback of incorrect (target-error feedback) over correct trials for the tDCS stim over sham group indicating greater attention to target features during training feedback when trials were incorrect. These results give important insight into the nature of neural excitability induced by tDCS as it relates to variability in individual differences in improved performance shedding some light the apparent lack of reliability found in tDCS research.

PMID: 29782510 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]