Background: Classical conditioning of the eyeblink reflex is a simple form of motor learning which depends on the integrity of the cerebellum. Acquisition of conditioned eyeblink responses is markedly reduced in patients with cerebellar disorders. Noninvasive transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has been reported to modify the excitability of the cerebellar cortex.
Objective: The aim of the study was to assess whether acquisition of conditioned eyeblink responses (CR) is altered by cerebellar tDCS.
Methods: A standard delay conditioning paradigm with a 540 ms tone as conditioned stimulus (CS) coterminating with a 100 ms air puff as unconditioned stimulus (US) was used in a total of 30 healthy subjects (18 female, 12 male, mean age 23.4 ± 1.9 years). One hundred paired CS-US trials and 30 extinction CS alone trials were given. tDCS (2 mA intensity, ramp like onset) was applied over the right cerebellar hemisphere ipsilaterally to the US during the acquisition phase. Subjects were randomly assigned to three groups (n = 10) using anodal, cathodal or sham stimulation. The investigator as well as the participants was blinded to the stimulation modality.
Results: CR acquisition was significantly enhanced by anodal tDCS (mean total CR incidence 73.4 ± 25.2%) and significantly reduced by cathodal stimulation (12.6 ± 17.2%) compared to sham stimulation (43.8 ± 24.1%). During anodal tDCS CR onset occurred significantly earlier, that is mean onset of responses was shifted closer to CS onset.
Conclusion: Acquisition and timing of conditioned eyeblink responses is modified by cerebellar tDCS in a polarity dependent manner.
Keywords: Associative learning; Cerebellum; Eyeblink conditioning; tDCS.
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