Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) elicits stimulus-specific enhancement of cortical plasticity

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28 Scopus citations


Background: Deficits in plasticity underlie many severe psychiatric disorders. Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a promising method for modulating plasticity. However, given its non-focal nature, there are open questions as to how targeting and outcome specificity can best be achieved. Objective: Understanding how tDCS interacts with concurrent brain activity is necessary for the rational advancement of tDCS. In the present study, we use an event-related potential (ERP) paradigm to assess the stimulus-specific effects of tDCS on cortical plasticity. Methods: 22 healthy volunteers underwent a blinded, sham-controlled plasticity paradigm in a crossover design. High frequency presentation of auditory stimuli was used to induce potentiation in specific components of the ERP. We investigated whether anodal tDCS targeting the auditory cortex would modulate plasticity induction across time. Two pure tones were used as stimuli, only one of the tones, the target tone, was used for plasticity induction. Plasticity was quantified as change in the mean amplitude of the N100 component relative to baseline. Results: TDCS significantly modulated plasticity in the target tone compared to sham (p ​= ​0.02) but had no effect on the control tone (p ​= ​0.73). This effect was time dependent, with tDCS effects no longer apparent 30 ​min after stimulation. Conclusions: Our results indicate that tDCS can modulate cortical plasticity in the auditory cortex in an activity-dependent manner. These findings bolster the idea that tDCS can be an effective tool to target and modulate plasticity both for research and therapeutic purposes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number116598
StatePublished - May 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
National Institute for Drug Abuse (Project Number: DA038984-05).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020


  • EEG
  • ERP
  • Neuromodulation
  • Plasticity
  • TDCS


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