Objective: To compare field measure differences in simulations of transcranial electrical stimulation (tES) generated by variations in finite element (FE) models due to boundary condition specification, use of tissue compartment smoothing filters, and use of free or structured tetrahedral meshes based on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data.
Approach: A structural MRI head volume was acquired at 1 mm3 resolution and segmented into ten tissue compartments. Predicted current densities and electric fields were computed in segmented models using modeling pipelines involving either an in-house (block) or a commercial platform commonly used in previous FE tES studies involving smoothed compartments and free meshing procedures (smooth). The same boundary conditions were used for both block and smooth pipelines. Differences caused by varying boundary conditions were examined using a simple geometry. Percentage differences of median current density values in five cortical structures were compared between the two pipelines for three electrode montages (F3-right supraorbital, T7-T8 and Cz-Oz).
Main results: Use of boundary conditions commonly used in previous tES FE studies produced asymmetric current density profiles in the simple geometry. In head models, median current density differences produced by the two pipelines, using the same boundary conditions, were up to 6% (isotropic) and 18% (anisotropic) in structures targeted by each montage. Tangential electric field measures calculated via either pipeline were within the range of values reported in the literature, when averaged over cortical surface patches.
Significance: Apparently equivalent boundary settings may affect predicted current density outcomes and care must be taken in their specification. Smoothing FE model compartments may not be necessary, and directly translated, voxellated tissue boundaries at 1 mm3 resolution may be sufficient for use in tES FE studies, greatly reducing processing times. The findings here may be used to inform future current density modeling studies.