Author(s): Nitsche MA, Fricke K, Henschke U, Schlitterlau A, Liebetanz D,
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Abstract Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) of the human motor cortex results in polarity-specific shifts of cortical excitability during and after stimulation. Anodal tDCS enhances and cathodal stimulation reduces excitability. Animal experiments have demonstrated that the effect of anodal tDCS is caused by neuronal depolarisation, while cathodal tDCS hyperpolarises cortical neurones. However, not much is known about the ion channels and receptors involved in these effects. Thus, the impact of the sodium channel blocker carbamazepine, the calcium channel blocker flunarizine and the NMDA receptor antagonist dextromethorphane on tDCS-elicited motor cortical excitability changes of healthy human subjects were tested. tDCS-protocols inducing excitability alterations (1) only during tDCS and (2) eliciting long-lasting after-effects were applied after drug administration. Carbamazepine selectively eliminated the excitability enhancement induced by anodal stimulation during and after tDCS. Flunarizine resulted in similar changes. Antagonising NMDA receptors did not alter current-generated excitability changes during a short stimulation, which elicits no after-effects, but prevented the induction of long-lasting after-effects independent of their direction. These results suggest that, like in other animals, cortical excitability shifts induced during tDCS in humans also depend on membrane polarisation, thus modulating the conductance of sodium and calcium channels. Moreover, they suggest that the after-effects may be NMDA receptor dependent. Since NMDA receptors are involved in neuroplastic changes, the results suggest a possible application of tDCS in the modulation or induction of these processes in a clinical setting. The selective elimination of tDCS-driven excitability enhancements by carbamazepine proposes a role for this drug in focussing the effects of cathodal tDCS, which may have important future clinical applications.
This article was published in J Physiol
and referenced in International Journal of Neurorehabilitation