Background: Neural oscillations in the cerebral cortex are associated with a range of cognitive processes and neuropsychiatric disorders. However, non-invasively modulating oscillatory activity remains technically challenging, due to limited strength, duration, or non-synchronization of stimulation waveforms with endogenous rhythms.
Objective: We hypothesized that applying controllable phase-synchronized repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation pulses (rTMS) with alternating currents (tACS) may induce and stabilize neuro-oscillatory resting-state activity at targeted frequencies.
Methods: Using a novel circuit to precisely synchronize rTMS pulses with phase of tACS, we empirically tested whether combined, 10-Hz prefrontal bilateral stimulation could induce and stabilize 10-Hz oscillations in the bilateral prefrontal cortex (PFC). 25 healthy participants took part in a repeated-measures design. Whole-brain resting-state EEG in eyes-open (EO) and eyes-closed (EC) was recorded before (baseline), immediately (1-min), and 15- and 30-min after stimulation. Bilateral, phase-synchronized rTMS aligned to the positive tACS peak was compared with rTMS at tACS trough, with bilateral tACS or rTMS on its own, and to sham.
Results: 10-Hz resting-state PFC power increased significantly with peak-synchronized rTMS + tACS (EO: 44.64%, EC: 46.30%, p < 0.05) compared to each stimulation protocol on its own, and sham, with effects spanning between prefrontal and parietal regions and sustaining throughout 30-min. No effects were observed with the sham protocol. Moreover, rTMS timed to the negative tACS trough did not induce local or global changes in oscillations.
Conclusion: Phase-synchronizing rTMS with tACS may be a viable approach for inducing and stabilizing neuro-oscillatory activity, particularly in scenarios where endogenous oscillatory tone is attenuated, such as disorders of consciousness or major depression.
Keywords: Alpha; EEG; Electroencephalography; Neuromodulation; Oscillations; Prefrontal cortex; TMS; Transcranial alternating current stimulation; Transcranial magnetic stimulation; tACS.
Copyright © 2021 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.