Enhancing vigilance in operators with prefrontal cortex transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS)

Neuroimage. 2014 Jan 15:85 Pt 3:909-17. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.11.061. Epub 2012 Dec 9.


Sustained attention, often referred to as vigilance in humans, is the ability to maintain goal-directed behavior for extended periods of time and respond to intermittent targets in the environment. With greater time-on-task the ability to detect targets decreases and reaction time increases-a phenomenon termed the vigilance decrement. The purpose of this study was to examine the role of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in the vigilance decrement. Subjects (n=19) received prefrontal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) at one of two different time points during a vigilance task (early or late). The impact of tDCS was examined using measures of behavior, hemispheric blood flow velocity, and regional blood oxygenation relative to sham stimulation. In the sham condition greater time-on-task was accompanied by fewer target detections and slower reaction times, indicating a vigilance decrement, and decreased blood flow velocity. tDCS significantly altered baseline task-induced physiologic and behavioral changes, dependent on the time of stimulation administration and electrode configuration (determining polarity of stimulation). Compared to the sham condition, with more time-on-task blood flow velocity decreased less and cerebral oxygenation increased more in the tDCS condition. Behavioral measures showed a significant improvement in target detection performance with tDCS compared to the sham stimulation. Signal detection analysis revealed a significant change in operator discriminability and response bias with increased time-on-task, as well as interactions between time of stimulation administration and electrode configuration. Current density modeling of tDCS showed high densities in the medial prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex. These findings confirm that cerebral hemodynamic measures provide an index of resource utilization and point to the central role of the frontal cortex in vigilance. Further, they suggest that modulation of the frontal cortices-and connected structures-influences the availability of vigilance resources. These findings indicate that tDCS may be well-suited to mitigate performance degradation in work settings requiring sustained attention or as a possible treatment for neurological or psychiatric disorders involving sustained attention.

Keywords: Attention; Enhancement; Hemodynamics; Noninvasive brain stimulation; Transcranial direct current stimulation; Vigilance.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Biomedical Enhancement / methods*
  • Electric Stimulation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prefrontal Cortex / blood supply
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Task Performance and Analysis*