No Effect of Anodal tDCS on Verbal Memory

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No Effect of Anodal tDCS on Verbal Episodic Memory Performance and Neurotransmitter Levels in Young and Elderly Participants.

Healthy ageing is accompanied by cognitive decline that affects episodic memory processes in particular. Studies showed that anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) may counteract this cognitive deterioration by increasing excitability and inducing neuroplasticity in the targeted cortical region. While stimulation gains are more consistent in initial low performers, relying solely on behavioural measures to predict treatment benefits does not suffice for a reliable implementation of this method as a therapeutic option. Hence, an exploration of the underlying neurophysiological mechanisms regarding the differential stimulation effect is warranted. Glutamatergic metabolites (Glx) and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) are involved in learning and memory processes and can be influenced with tDCS; wherefore, they present themselves as potential biomarkers for tDCS-induced behavioural gains, which are affiliated with neuroplasticity processes. In the present randomized, double-blind, sham-controlled, crossover study, 33 healthy young and 22 elderly participants received anodal tDCS to their left DLPFC during the encoding phase of a verbal episodic memory task. Using MEGA-PRESS edited magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), Glx and GABA levels were measured in the left DLPFC before and after the stimulation period. Further, we tested whether baseline performance and neurotransmitter levels predicted subsequent gains. No beneficial group effects of tDCS emerged in either verbal retrieval performances or neurotransmitter concentrations. Moreover, baseline performance levels did not predict stimulation-induced cognitive gains, nor did Glx or GABA levels. Nevertheless, exploratory analyses suggested a predictive value of the Glx : GABA ratio, with lower ratios at baseline indicating greater tDCS-related gains in delayed recall performance. This highlights the importance of further studies investigating neurophysiological mechanisms underlying previously observed stimulation-induced cognitive benefits and their respective interindividual heterogeneity.

PMID: 33029128 [PubMed – in process]

Neural Plast. 2020;2020:8896791

Authors: Habich A, Slotboom J, Peter J, Wiest R, Klöppel S