Motor imagery (MI) training and anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) applied over the primary motor cortex can independently improve hand motor function. The main objective of this double-blind, sham-controlled study was to examine whether anodal tDCS over the primary motor cortex could enhance the effects of MI training on the learning of a finger tapping sequence. Thirty-six right-handed young human adults were assigned to one of three groups: (i) who performed MI training combined with anodal tDCS applied over the primary motor cortex; (ii) who performed MI training combined with sham tDCS; and (iii) who received tDCS while reading a book. The MI training consisted of mentally rehearsing an eight-item complex finger sequence for 13 min. Before (Pre-test), immediately after (Post-test 1), and at 90 min after (Post-test 2) MI training, the participants physically repeated the sequence as fast and as accurately as possible. An anova showed that the number of sequences correctly performed significantly increased between Pre-test and Post-test 1 and remained stable at Post-test 2 in the three groups (P < 0.001). Furthermore, the percentage increase in performance between Pre-test and Post-test 1 and Post-test 2 was significantly greater in the group that performed MI training combined with anodal tDCS compared with the other two groups (P < 0.05). As a potential physiological explanation, the synaptic strength within the primary motor cortex could have been reinforced by the association of MI training and tDCS compared with MI training alone and tDCS alone.
Keywords: human; mental practice; motor imagery; motor sequence learning; neuromodulation; primary motor cortex.
© 2015 Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.