Transcranial direct current stimulation and visual perception

Perception. 2008;37(3):367-74. doi: 10.1068/p5872.


Membrane potentials and spike sequences represent the basic modes of cerebral information processing. Both can be externally modulated in humans by quite specific techniques: transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). These methods induce reversible circumscribed cortical excitability changes, either excitatory or inhibitory, outlasting stimulation in time. Experimental pharmacological interventions may selectively enhance the duration of the aftereffects. Whereas rTMS induces externally triggered changes in the neuronal spiking pattern and interrupts or excites neuronal firing in a spatially and temporally restricted fashion, tDCS modulates the spontaneous firing rates of neurons by changing resting-membrane potential. The easiest and most common way of evaluating the cortical excitability changes is by applying TMS to the motor cortex, since it allows reproducible quantification through the motor-evoked potential. Threshold determinations at the visual cortex or psychophysical methods usually require repeated and longer measurements and thus more time for each data set. Here, results derived from the use of tDCS in visual perception, including contrast as well as motion detection and visuo-motor coordination and learning, are summarised. It is demonstrated that visual functions can be transiently altered by tDCS, as has been shown for the motor cortex previously. Up- and down-regulation of different cortical areas by tDCS is likely to open a new branch in the field of visual psychophysics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Contrast Sensitivity / physiology
  • Electric Stimulation*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Motion Perception / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Psychophysics
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*