Cellular and molecular mechanisms of action of transcranial direct current stimulation: evidence from in vitro and in vivo models

Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2014 Oct 31;18(2):pyu047. doi: 10.1093/ijnp/pyu047.


Transcranial direct current stimulation is a noninvasive technique that has been experimentally tested for a number of psychiatric and neurological conditions. Preliminary observations suggest that this approach can indeed influence a number of cellular and molecular pathways that may be disease relevant. However, the mechanisms of action underlying its beneficial effects are largely unknown and need to be better understood to allow this therapy to be used optimally. In this review, we summarize the physiological responses observed in vitro and in vivo, with a particular emphasis on cellular and molecular cascades associated with inflammation, angiogenesis, neurogenesis, and neuroplasticity recruited by direct current stimulation, a topic that has been largely neglected in the literature. A better understanding of the neural responses to transcranial direct current stimulation is critical if this therapy is to be used in large-scale clinical trials with a view of being routinely offered to patients suffering from various conditions affecting the central nervous system.

Keywords: inflammation; long-term potentiation; neurogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / immunology
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation / methods*