Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) produces localized and specific alterations in neurochemistry: a ¹H magnetic resonance spectroscopy study

Neurosci Lett. 2011 Aug 1;500(1):67-71. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2011.05.244. Epub 2011 Jun 12.


Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has been found to produce significant changes in behavior, including a large increase of learning and performance for a difficult visual perceptual task (Clark et al., NeuroImage 2010). The mechanisms by which tDCS produces these behavioral effects are currently uncertain. One hypothesis is that anodal tDCS leads to increased metabolic activity in the brain, which enhances cognitive and memory processes. Here we examined the neuronal mechanisms by which tDCS influences learning by measuring changes in brain metabolite concentrations using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (¹H MRS). As perception and learning can also influence neurochemistry, here we applied tDCS during rest. MRS data was obtained before and after 2.0 mA of anodal tDCS was applied for 30 min over electrode site P4, with the cathode placed on the contralateral arm. MRS data were acquired from the right parietal lobe beneath the anodal tDCS electrode, and from the homologous regions of the left hemisphere once before and once after tDCS. Significantly higher combined glutamate and glutamine levels were found in right parietal cortex, beneath the stimulating electrode, with non-significant increases in homologous regions of the opposite hemisphere. In addition, a significant interaction between hemispheres was found for tDCS effects on tNAA. These results suggest that changes in glutamatergic activity and tNAA may be related to the mechanisms by which tDCS influences learning and behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aspartic Acid / analogs & derivatives
  • Aspartic Acid / metabolism
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cerebrum / anatomy & histology
  • Cerebrum / metabolism
  • Dipeptides / metabolism
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Female
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism
  • Glutamine / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Male
  • Young Adult


  • Dipeptides
  • Glutamine
  • isospaglumic acid
  • Aspartic Acid
  • Glutamic Acid
  • N-acetylaspartate