Origins of specificity during tDCS: anatomical, activity-selective, and input-bias mechanisms

Front Hum Neurosci. 2013 Oct 21;7:688. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00688. eCollection 2013.


Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) is investigated for a broad range of neuropsychiatric indications, various rehabilitation applications, and to modulate cognitive performance in diverse tasks. Specificity of tDCS refers broadly to the ability of tDCS to produce precise, as opposed to diffuse, changes in brain function. Practically, specificity of tDCS implies application-specific customization of protocols to maximize desired outcomes and minimize undesired effects. Especially given the simplicity of tDCS and the complexity of brain function, understanding the mechanisms leading to specificity is fundamental to the rational advancement of tDCS. We define the origins of specificity based on anatomical and functional factors. Anatomical specificity derives from guiding current to targeted brain structures. Functional specificity may derive from either activity-selectivity, where active neuronal networks are preferentially modulated by tDCS, or input-selectivity, where bias is applied to different synaptic inputs. Rational advancement of tDCS may require leveraging all forms of specificity.

Keywords: anatomical brain connectivity; neuromodulation; stimulation protocol; transcranial direct current stimulation; transcranial magnetic stimulation.