Measurements and models of electric fields in the in vivo human brain during transcranial electric stimulation

Elife. 2017 Feb 7;6:e18834. doi: 10.7554/eLife.18834.


Transcranial electric stimulation aims to stimulate the brain by applying weak electrical currents at the scalp. However, the magnitude and spatial distribution of electric fields in the human brain are unknown. We measured electric potentials intracranially in ten epilepsy patients and estimated electric fields across the entire brain by leveraging calibrated current-flow models. When stimulating at 2 mA, cortical electric fields reach 0.8 V/m, the lower limit of effectiveness in animal studies. When individual whole-head anatomy is considered, the predicted electric field magnitudes correlate with the recorded values in cortical (r = 0.86) and depth (r = 0.88) electrodes. Accurate models require adjustment of tissue conductivity values reported in the literature, but accuracy is not improved when incorporating white matter anisotropy or different skull compartments. This is the first study to validate and calibrate current-flow models with in vivo intracranial recordings in humans, providing a solid foundation to target stimulation and interpret clinical trials.

Keywords: computational current-flow model; human; intracranial recordings; neuroscience; transcranial electric stimulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Brain / radiation effects*
  • Electromagnetic Fields*
  • Humans
  • Spatial Analysis
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation*