The objective of this review is to summarize the contribution of animal research using direct current stimulation (DCS) to our understanding of the physiological effects of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). We comprehensively address experimental methodology in animal studies, broadly classified as: (1) transcranial stimulation; (2) direct cortical stimulation in vivo and (3) in vitro models. In each case advantages and disadvantages for translational research are discussed including dose translation and the overarching "quasi-uniform" assumption, which underpins translational relevance in all animal models of tDCS. Terminology such as anode, cathode, inward current, outward current, current density, electric field, and uniform are defined. Though we put key animal experiments spanning decades in perspective, our goal is not simply an exhaustive cataloging of relevant animal studies, but rather to put them in context of ongoing efforts to improve tDCS. Cellular targets, including excitatory neuronal somas, dendrites, axons, interneurons, glial cells, and endothelial cells are considered. We emphasize neurons are always depolarized and hyperpolarized such that effects of DCS on neuronal excitability can only be evaluated within subcellular regions of the neuron. Findings from animal studies on the effects of DCS on plasticity (LTP/LTD) and network oscillations are reviewed extensively. Any endogenous phenomena dependent on membrane potential changes are, in theory, susceptible to modulation by DCS. The relevance of morphological changes (galvanotropy) to tDCS is also considered, as we suggest microscopic migration of axon terminals or dendritic spines may be relevant during tDCS. A majority of clinical studies using tDCS employ a simplistic dose strategy where excitability is singularly increased or decreased under the anode and cathode, respectively. We discuss how this strategy, itself based on classic animal studies, cannot account for the complexity of normal and pathological brain function, and how recent studies have already indicated more sophisticated approaches are necessary. One tDCS theory regarding "functional targeting" suggests the specificity of tDCS effects are possible by modulating ongoing function (plasticity). Use of animal models of disease are summarized including pain, movement disorders, stroke, and epilepsy.
Keywords: Animal models; Galvanotropy; Long term potentiation; Noninvasive brain stimulation; Oscillations; Synaptic plasticity; Transcranial direct current stimulation.
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