Transcranial alternating current stimulation attenuates neuronal adaptation.

Research paper by Kohitij K Kar, Jacob J Duijnhouwer, Bart B Krekelberg

Indexed on: 01 Feb '17Published on: 01 Feb '17Published in: The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience


We previously showed that brief application of 2 mA (peak-to-peak) transcranial currents alternating at 10 Hz significantly reduces motion adaptation in humans. This is but one of many behavioral studies showing that weak currents applied to the scalp modulate neural processing. Transcranial stimulation has been shown to improve perception, learning, and a range of clinical symptoms. Few studies, however, have measured the neural consequences of transcranial current stimulation. We capitalized on the strong link between motion perception and neural activity in the middle temporal (MT) area of the macaque monkey to study the neural mechanisms that underlie the behavioral consequences of transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS). First, we observed that 2 mA currents generated substantial intracranial fields, which were much stronger in the stimulated hemisphere (0.12 V/m) than on the opposite side of the brain (0.03 V/m). Second, we found that brief application of tACS at 10 Hz reduced spike-frequency adaptation of MT neurons and led to a broad-band increase in the power-spectrum of local field potentials. Together these findings provide a direct demonstration that weak electric fields applied to the scalp significantly affect neural processing in the primate brain and that this includes a hitherto unknown mechanism that attenuates sensory adaptation.Transcranial stimulation has been claimed to improve perception, learning, and a range of clinical symptoms. Little is known, however, how transcranial current stimulation generates such effects and the search for better stimulation protocols proceeds largely by trial and error. We investigated, for the first time, the neural consequences of stimulation in the monkey brain. We found that even brief application of alternating current stimulation reduced the effects of adaptation on single neuron firing rates and local field potentials; this mechanistic insight explains previous behavioral findings and suggest a novel way to modulate neural information processing using transcranial currents. In addition, by developing an animal model to help understand transcranial stimulation, this study will aid the rational design of stimulation protocols for the treatment of mental illnesses, and the improvement of perception and learning.