Modulation of motor performance and motor learning by transcranial direct current stimulation

Curr Opin Neurol. 2011 Dec;24(6):590-6. doi: 10.1097/WCO.0b013e32834c3db0.


Purpose of review: Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has shown preliminary success in improving motor performance and motor learning in healthy individuals, and restitution of motor deficits in stroke patients. This brief review highlights some recent work.

Recent findings: Within the past years, behavioural studies have confirmed and specified the timing and polarity specific effects of tDCS on motor skill learning and motor adaptation. There is strong evidence that timely co-application of (hand/arm) training and anodal tDCS to the contralateral M1 can improve motor learning. Improvements in motor function as measured by clinical scores have been described for combined tDCS and training in stroke patients. For this purpose, electrode montages have been modified with respect to interhemispheric imbalance after brain injury. Cathodal tDCS applied to the unlesioned M1 or bihemispheric M1 stimulation appears to be well tolerated and useful to induce improvements in motor function. Mechanistic studies in humans and animals are discussed with regard to physiological motor learning.

Summary: tDCS is well tolerated, easy to use and capable of inducing lasting improvements in motor function. This method holds promise for the rehabilitation of motor disabilities, although acute studies in patients with brain injury are so far lacking.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / physiology
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Motor Skills
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Stroke Rehabilitation
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods*