Dopaminergic modulation of long-lasting direct current-induced cortical excitability changes in the human motor cortex

Eur J Neurosci. 2006 Mar;23(6):1651-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2006.04676.x.


Dopaminergic mechanisms participate in N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor-dependent neuroplasticity, as animal experiments have shown. This may be similar in humans, where dopamine influences learning and memory. We tested the role of dopamine in human cortical neuroplasticity. Changes of excitability were induced by transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). D2 receptor blocking by sulpiride abolished the induction of after-effects nearly completely. D1 activation alone in the presence of D2 receptor blocking induced by co-administration of sulpiride and pergolide did not re-establish the excitability changes induced by tDCS. This suggests that D2 receptors play a major supporting role in inducing neuroplasticity in the human motor cortex. Enhancement of D2 and, to a lesser degree, D1 receptors by pergolide consolidated tDCS-generated excitability diminution until the morning after stimulation. The readiest explanation for this pattern of results is that D2 receptor activation has a consolidation-enhancing effect on tDCS-induced changes of excitability in the human cortex. The results of this study underscore the importance of the dopaminergic system for human neuroplasticity, suggest a first pharmacological add-on mechanism to prolong the excitability-diminishing effects of cathodal tDCS for up to 24 h after stimulation, and thus render the application of tDCS practicable in diseases displaying enhanced cortical excitability, e.g. migraine and epilepsy.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Dopamine Agents / pharmacology
  • Dopamine Agonists / pharmacology
  • Dopamine Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Electrophysiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Levodopa / pharmacology
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / drug effects
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Pergolide / pharmacology
  • Receptors, Dopamine D1 / physiology
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / physiology
  • Sulpiride / pharmacology
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation


  • Dopamine Agents
  • Dopamine Agonists
  • Dopamine Antagonists
  • Receptors, Dopamine D1
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2
  • Pergolide
  • Levodopa
  • Sulpiride
  • Dopamine