The timing of cognitive plasticity in physiological aging: a tDCS study of naming

Front Aging Neurosci. 2014 Jun 24;6:131. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2014.00131. eCollection 2014.


This study aimed to explore the effects of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) on physiologically aging adults performing a naming task. tDCS is a method that modulates human cortical excitability. Neuroplasticity is considered to have its foundation in cortical excitability as a property that adjusts the connection strength between neurons in the brain. Language efficiency, as all functions, relies on integration of information (i.e., effectiveness of connectivity) through neurons in the brain. So the use of tDCS, to modulate cortical excitability, can help to define the state of cognitive plasticity in the aging brain. Based on Hebb's rule, an increase in synaptic efficacy does not rely only on the increase of excitability but also on the timing of activation. Therefore, a key issue in this study is the timing of tDCS application in relation to a task: When to deliver tDCS to induce modulatory effects on task execution to facilitate naming. Anodal tDCS was applied to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex of older and young adults before and during a naming task. In older adults, tDCS improved naming performance and decreased the verbal reaction times only if it was applied during the task execution, whereas in young subjects both stimulation conditions improved naming performance. These findings highlight that in healthy aging adults, the cerebral network dedicated to lexical retrieval processing may be facilitated only if stimulation is applied to an "active" neural network. We hypothesize that this change is due to the neuronal synaptic changes, in the aging brain, which reduce the window of when cortical excitability can facilitate synaptic efficacy and therefore plasticity.

Keywords: NIBS; aging; facilitation; language; neuroplasticity; transcranial direct current stimulation.