Dopamine dysfunction is associated with a wide range of neuropsychiatric disorders commonly treated pharmacologically or invasively. Recent studies provide evidence for a nonpharmacological and noninvasive alternative that allows similar manipulation of the dopaminergic system: transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). In rodents, tDCS has been shown to increase neural activity in subcortical parts of the dopaminergic system, and recent studies in humans provide evidence that tDCS over prefrontal regions induces striatal dopamine release and affects reward-related behavior. Based on these findings, we used fMRI in healthy human participants and measured the fractional amplitude of low-frequency fluctuations to assess spontaneous neural activity strength in regions of the mesostriatal dopamine system before and after tDCS over prefrontal regions (n = 40, 22 females). In a second study, we examined the effect of a single dose of the dopamine precursor levodopa (l-DOPA) on mesostriatal fractional amplitude of low-frequency fluctuation values in male humans (n = 22) and compared the results between both studies. We found that prefrontal tDCS and l-DOPA both enhance neural activity in core regions of the dopaminergic system and show similar subcortical activation patterns. We furthermore assessed the spatial similarity of whole-brain statistical parametric maps, indicating tDCS- and l-DOPA-induced activation, and >100 neuronal receptor gene expression maps based on transcriptional data from the Allen Institute for Brain Science. In line with a specific activation of the dopaminergic system, we found that both interventions predominantly activated regions with high expression levels of the dopamine receptors D2 and D3.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Studies in animals and humans provide evidence that transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) allows a manipulation of the dopaminergic system. Based on these findings, we used fMRI to assess changes in spontaneous neural activity strength in the human dopaminergic system after prefrontal tDCS compared with the administration of the dopamine precursor and standard anti-Parkinson drug levodopa (l-DOPA). We found that prefrontal tDCS and l-DOPA both enhance neural activity in core regions of the dopaminergic system and show similar subcortical activation patterns. Using whole-brain transcriptional data of >100 neuronal receptor genes, we found that both interventions specifically activated regions with high expression levels of the dopamine receptors D2 and D3.
Keywords: dopamine; fALFF; fMRI; l-DOPA; resting state; tDCS.
Copyright © 2019 the authors.