In recent years, transcranial electrical stimulation (tES) has been used to improve cognitive and perceptual abilities and to boost learning. In the visual domain, transcranial random noise stimulation (tRNS), a type of tES in which electric current is randomly alternating in between two electrodes at high frequency, has shown potential in inducing long lasting perceptual improvements when coupled with tasks such as contrast detection. However, its cortical mechanisms and online effects have not been fully understood yet, and it is still unclear whether these long-term improvements are due to early-stage perceptual enhancements of contrast sensitivity or later stage mechanisms such as learning consolidation. Here we tested tRNS effects on multiple spatial frequencies and orientation, showing that tRNS enhances detection of a low contrast Gabor, but only for oblique orientation and high spatial frequency (12 cycles per degree of visual angle). No improvement was observed for low contrast and vertical stimuli. These results indicate that tRNS can enhance contrast sensitivity already after one training session, however this early onset is dependent on characteristics of the stimulus such as spatial frequency and orientation. In particular, the shallow depth of tRNS is likely to affect superficial layers of the visual cortex where neurons have higher preferred spatial frequencies than cells in further layers, while the lack of effect on vertical stimuli might reflect the optimization of the visual system to see cardinally oriented low contrast stimuli, leaving little room for short-term improvement. Taken together, these results suggest that online tRNS effects on visual perception are the result of a complex interaction between stimulus intensity and cortical anatomy, consistent with previous literature on brain stimulation.
PMID:31846733 | DOI:10.1016/j.neulet.2019.134696