Objective: Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a neuromodulatory technique that delivers a low-intensity, direct current to cortical areas with the purpose of modulating underlying brain activity. Recent studies have reported inconsistencies in tDCS outcomes. The underlying assumption of many tDCS studies has been that replication of electrode montage equates to replicating stimulation conditions. It is possible however that anatomical difference between subjects, as well as inherent inaccuracies in montage placement, could affect current flow to targeted areas. The hypothesis that stimulation of a defined brain region will be stable under small displacements was tested.
Approach: Initially, we compared the total simulated current flowing through ten specific brain areas for four commonly used tDCS montages: F3-Fp2, C3-Fp2, Fp1-F4, and P3-P4 using the software tool COMETS. The effect of a slight (~1 cm in each of four directions) anode displacement on the simulated regional current density for each of the four tDCS montages was then determined. Current flow was calculated and compared through ten segmented brain areas to determine the effect of montage type and displacement. The regional currents, as well as the localised current densities, were compared with the original electrode location, for each of these new positions.
Main results: Recommendations for montages that maximise stimulation current for the ten brain regions are considered. We noted that the extent to which stimulation is affected by electrode displacement varies depending on both area and montage type. The F3-Fp2 montage was found to be the least stable with up to 38% change in average current density in the left frontal lobe while the Fp1-F4 montage was found to the most stable exhibiting only 1% change when electrodes were displaced.
Significance: These results indicate that even relatively small changes in stimulation electrode placement appear to result in surprisingly large changes in current densities and distribution.