Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) over prefrontal cortex (PFC) regions is currently proposed as therapeutic intervention for major depression and other psychiatric disorders. The in-depth mechanistic understanding of this bipolar and non-focal stimulation technique is still incomplete. In a pilot study, we investigated the effects of bifrontal stimulation on brain metabolite levels and resting state connectivity under the cathode using multiparametric MRI techniques and computational tDCS modeling. Within a double-blind cross-over design, 20 subjects (12 women, 23.7 ± 2 years) were randomized to active tDCS with standard bifrontal montage with the anode over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and the cathode over the right DLPFC. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) was acquired before, during, and after prefrontal tDCS to quantify glutamate (Glu), Glu + glutamine (Glx) and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) concentration in these areas. Resting-state functional connectivity MRI (rsfcMRI) was acquired before and after the stimulation. The individual distribution of tDCS induced electric fields (efields) within the MRS voxel was computationally modelled using SimNIBS 2.0. There were no significant changes of Glu, Glx and GABA levels across conditions but marked differences in the course of Glu levels between female and male participants were observed. Further investigation yielded a significantly stronger Glu reduction after active compared to sham stimulation in female participants, but not in male participants. For rsfcMRI neither significant changes nor correlations with MRS data were observed. Exploratory analyses of the effect of efield intensity distribution on Glu changes showed distinct effects in different efield groups. Our findings are limited by the small sample size, but correspond to previously published results of cathodal tDCS. Future studies should address gender and efield intensity as moderators of tDCS induced effects.
Keywords: Electrical field modelling; Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); GABA; Glutamate; Magnetic resonance spectroscopy; Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS).