Tag Archives: Transcranial direct-current stimulation

New evidence on transcranial electric stimulation of the brain

18 Oct

Last year György Buzsáki performed a public experiment showing that electricity passed through electrodes placed on the scalp of a cadaver could not be detected in the brain. This raised serious concerns about the many claims made on behalf of transcranial electrical stimulation of the brain.

Now, in a forth coming paper, published in the journal Brain Stimulation, evidence is presented from an in vivo study (research on a living subject) that detectable changes in brain electrical activity does occur during transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS).

Stay tuned!

An fMRI study of transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS)

9 Aug

I have been following the research on transcranial electrical stimulation of the brain and I have blogged about both positive and negative findings. Here’s an interesting paper, just published in Personality and Individual Differences, that shows correlations between transcranial alternating current stimulation and functional changes in the brain:

The past decades have witnessed a huge interest in uncovering the neural bases of intelligence (e.g., Stelmack, & Houlihan, 1995; Stelmack, Knott, & Beauchamp, 2003). This study investigated the influence of transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) on fluid intelligence performance and corresponding brain activation. Previous findings showed that left parietal theta tACS leads to a transient increase in fluid reasoning performance. In an attempt to extend and replicate these findings, we combined theta tACS with fMRI. In a double-blind sham-controlled experiment, N = 20 participants worked on two intelligence tasks (matrices and paper folding) after theta tACS was applied to the left parietal cortex. Stimulation-induced brain activation changes were recorded during task processing using fMRI. Results showed that theta tACS significantly increased fluid intelligence performance when working on difficult items in the matrices test; no effect was observed for the visuo-spatial paper folding test. Whole-brain analyses showed that left parietal brain stimulation was accompanied by lower activation in task-irrelevant brain areas. Complemental ROI analyses revealed a tendency towards lower activation in the left inferior parietal cortex. These findings corroborate the functional role of left parietal theta activity in fluid reasoning and are in line with the neural efficiency hypothesis.

Note that this study looks at alternating current stimulation, while most are focused on direct current stimulation.

Transcranial direct current stimulation for dementia?

1 May

Possibly, according to a paper presented at the recent American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting:

To assess efficacy of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) for improving picture naming abilities in individuals with mild dementia, researchers conducted a double-blind, cross-over study among 12 individuals. Study participants received 10 sessions of training on picture naming plus 30 minutes of anodal tDCS applied to the parietal lobe or sham simulation. Evaluation occurred before stimulation, at the final stimulation session, 2 weeks after stimulation and 2 months after stimulation.

Study participants who received tDCS significantly improved in picture naming, compared with those who received sham stimulation.

This seems like a strong study design and the results are striking. Normally, you would not expect improvement in a memory test on people suffering from dementia. Indeed, drugs, such as Donepezil,  used for treatment of dementia, only claim to reduce the rate of decline, not to cause improvement.

Note that this is a conference paper and has not yet been published in a peer reviewed journal. It would be important to know the magnitude of the effect and to see the research replicated.

Warning: transcranial direct current stimulation may alter brain protiens

1 Jul

I know it’s tempting, but here’s another reason not to rush into transcranial direct current stimulation:

‘To better understand the effects of current on the brain the researchers used only 0.8V , about half the amount found in a 1.5 volt battery. Recent research published in the American Chemical Society publication Langmuir provided evidence that even at such a low voltage, the current could cause significant changes in the conformation of the proteins tested in the laboratory.
“What is happening in neurons is key because we know information is sent through electrical signals and if you apply external fields, there might be some important interruption that affects the normal functionality of neurons,” said Marucho. “Maybe you could enhance memory and other activities in the short term, but maybe you are also affecting some other important functions of neurons in the long term. We don’t know–and I don’t think anybody knows the long term effects of these applications.”’

The paper can be found here.

Proteins under the influence of an electric field

Proteins under the influence of an electric field

tDCS, reason to reserve judgement

6 May

Many of the articles I read on transcranial direct current stimulation follow a similar pattern. The intrepid reporter is strapped with electrodes to the skull and, after reporting a tingling feeling, describes some cognitive benefit from the procedure.

A good piece by Kira Peikoff in The New York Times breaks that pattern and acknowledges the limits of our knowledge about tDCS:

“In January, the journal Brain Stimulation published the largest meta-analysis of tDCS to date. After examining every finding replicated by at least two research groups, leading to 59 analyses, the authors reported that one session of tDCS failed to show any significant benefit for users.”



Transcranial direct brain current stimulation for stroke patients?

26 Sep

A paper in The Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation suggests that  transcranial direct current stimulation of the brain used in conjunction with virtual reality motor training may promote recovery after stroke. Here is the abstract:


There is growing evidence that the combination of non-invasive brain stimulation and motor skill training is an effective new treatment option in neurorehabilitation. We investigated the beneficial effects of the application of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) combined with virtual reality (VR) motor training.

In total, 15 healthy, right-handed volunteers and 15 patients with stroke in the subacute stage participated. Four different conditions (A: active wrist exercise, B: VR wrist exercise, C: VR wrist exercise following anodal tDCS (1 mV, 20 min) on the left (healthy volunteer) or affected (stroke patient) primary motor cortex, and D: anodal tDCS without exercise) were provided in random order on separate days. We compared during and post-exercise corticospinal excitability under different conditions in healthy volunteers (A, B, C, D) and stroke patients (B, C, D) by measuring the changes in amplitudes of motor evoked potentials in the extensor carpi radialis muscle, elicited with single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation. For statistical analyses, a linear mixed model for a repeated-measures covariance pattern model with unstructured covariance within groups (healthy or stroke groups) was used.

The VR wrist exercise (B) facilitated post-exercise corticospinal excitability more than the active wrist exercise (A) or anodal tDCS without exercise (D) in healthy volunteers. Moreover, the post-exercise corticospinal facilitation after tDCS and VR exercise (C) was greater and was sustained for 20 min after exercise versus the other conditions in healthy volunteers (A, B, D) and in subacute stroke patients (B, D).

The combined effect of VR motor training following tDCS was synergistic and short-term corticospinal facilitation was superior to the application of VR training, active motor training, or tDCS without exercise condition. These results support the concept of combining brain stimulation with VR motor training to promote recovery after a stroke.”

You can read the entire paper here.


Lose weight with tDCS?

8 Sep

An article in Newsweek reports on a yet unpublished study of transcranial direct current brain stimulation:

“A different piece of yet to be published research suggests that the slimming effects of brain stimulation are really about the fact that it increases our willpower—our ability to resist temptation—and not so much about suppressing appetite specifically.”

Since the research has not been published we should reserve judgment at this time. However, I was able to find the abstract:

“Food craving can be defined as the “urge to eat a specific food”. Previous findings suggest impairment of inhibitory control, specifically a regulatory deficit in the lateral prefrontal circuitry that is associated with a compulsion for food. As demonstrated by three previous studies, bilateral transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) (anode right/cathode left) reduces food craving and caloric intake. We designed the present study to evaluate the neural mechanisms that underlie these effects. We replicated the design of one of these previous studies but included electroencephalographic assessments to register evoked potentials in a Go/No-go task that contained pictures of food and furniture (a control visual stimulus). We collected data from nine women (mean age = 23.4 ± 2 years) in a crossover experiment. We observed that active DLPFC tDCS (anode right/cathode left), compared with sham stimulation, reduced the frontal N2 component and enhanced the P3a component of responses to No-go stimuli, regardless of the stimulus condition (food or furniture). Active tDCS was also associated with a reduction in caloric intake. We discuss our findings in the context of cortico-subcortical processing of craving and tDCS effects on inhibitory control neural circuitry.”



Transcranial direct current stimulation;

4 Sep

The research on transcranial direct current stimulation of the brain is fascinating. Given how easy it is to build the necessary equipment, there is a great temptation for self-experimentation. But caution is in order.

Here is a piece from the BBC on potential dangers:


“An active forum on reddit is devoted to the technology, and people there have complained of “burning to the scalp”. Another user wrote that they “seemed to be getting angry frequently” after using TDCS.”


TMS_Coimbra (5)

Wired on diy transcranial cirect current brain stimulation

12 May

A piece by Greg Miller in Wired looks at the world of do it yourself transcranial cirect current brain stimulation.

“Williams is spreading the brain-zapping idea closer to home too. He has built brain stimulators for his wife (he couldn’t keep the secret very long) and several friends and acquaintances. All in all, he has persuaded at least a dozen people to give it a try. One says she’s gone off antidepressants for the first time in 20 years. Another says brain stimulation is helping him get his ADD under control. Several ambitious middle-­aged professionals say the devices have boosted their memory and focus.”

Here are my other posts on this topic. I am still not ready to attach electrodes to my skull, but I am intrigued.

Here’s a post on transcranial cirect current brain stimulation used to induce lucid dreaming.

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Direct current brain stimulation

15 Aug

A number of studies have found that transcranial direct-current stimulation of the brain may improve cognitive function. Now, Dreic Bownds reports on a study that shows that direct current stimulation may improve general intelligence.

The idea here is that passing a direct current through your skull can increase or decrease (depending on the direction of the current flow) the excitability of the brain’s neurons.

While the initial research has been encouraging, it may be worth waiting for additional studies on the long term effects before you strap electrodes to your head.

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