Neurobiological after-effects of non-invasive brain stimulation

Brain Stimul. 2017 Jan-Feb;10(1):1-18. doi: 10.1016/j.brs.2016.11.009. Epub 2016 Nov 17.


Background: In recent years, many studies have evaluated the effects of noninvasive brain stimulation (NIBS) techniques for the treatment of several neurological and psychiatric disorders. Positive results led to approval of NIBS for some of these conditions by the Food and Drug Administration in the USA. The therapeutic effects of NIBS have been related to bi-directional changes in cortical excitability with the direction of change depending on the choice of stimulation protocol. Although after-effects are mostly short lived, complex neurobiological mechanisms related to changes in synaptic excitability bear the potential to further induce therapy-relevant lasting changes.

Objective: To review recent neurobiological findings obtained from in vitro and in vivo studies that highlight molecular and cellular mechanisms of short- and long-term changes of synaptic plasticity after NIBS.

Findings: Long-term potentiation (LTP) and depression (LTD) phenomena by itself are insufficient in explaining the early and long term changes taking place after short episodes of NIBS. Preliminary experimental studies indicate a complex scenario potentially relevant to the therapeutic effects of NIBS, including gene activation/regulation, de novo protein expression, morphological changes, changes in intrinsic firing properties and modified network properties resulting from changed inhibition, homeostatic processes and glial function.

Conclusions: This review brings into focus the neurobiological mechanisms underlying long-term after-effects of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) recently obtained from in vitro and in vivo studies, both in animals and humans.

Keywords: LTD; LTP; Non-invasive brain stimulation; TMS.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / physiopathology
  • Depression / therapy
  • Humans
  • Long-Term Potentiation / physiology
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Stereotaxic Techniques / trends
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation / methods
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation / trends*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / trends*