Phase-specific manipulation of brain activity by tACS

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Phase-specific manipulation of rhythmic brain activity by transcranial alternating current stimulation.

Abstract
BACKGROUND: Oscillatory phase has been proposed as a key parameter defining the spatiotemporal structure of neural activity. To enhance our understanding of brain rhythms and improve clinical outcomes in pathological conditions, modulation of neural activity by transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) emerged as a promising approach. However, the phase-specificity of tACS effects in humans is still critically debated.
OBJECTIVE: Here, we investigated the phase-specificity of tACS on visually evoked steady state responses (SSRs) in 24 healthy human participants.
METHODS: We used an intermittent electrical stimulation protocol and assessed the influence of tACS on SSR amplitude in the interval immediately following tACS. A neural network model served to validate the plausibility of experimental findings.
RESULTS: We observed a modulation of SSR amplitudes dependent on the phase shift between flicker and tACS. The tACS effect size was negatively correlated with the strength of flicker-evoked activity. Supported by simulations, data suggest that strong network synchronization limits further neuromodulation by tACS. Neural sources of phase-specific effects were localized in the parieto-occipital cortex within flicker-entrained regions. Importantly, the optimal phase shift between flicker and tACS associated with strongest SSRs was correlated with SSR phase delays in the tACS target region.
CONCLUSIONS: Overall, our data provide electrophysiological evidence for phase-specific modulations of rhythmic brain activity by tACS in humans. As the optimal timing of tACS application was dependent on cortical SSR phase delays, our data suggest that tACS effects were not mediated by retinal co-stimulation. These findings highlight the potential of tACS for controlled, phase-specific modulations of neural activity.

PMID: 32534253 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]

Brain Stimul. 2020 Jun 10;:

Authors: Fiene M, Schwab BC, Misselhorn J, Herrmann CS, Schneider TR, Engel AK

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