Non-linear effects of cathodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) of the primary motor cortex on implicit motor learning

  • Gali Shilo
  • Michal LavidorEmail author
Research Article


Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) of 1 mA for 13 min was reported to create a linear inter-dependency between the intensity and duration of the current and the effects of the stimulation. tDCS on the primary motor cortex (M1) has been shown to have an effect on both motor-evoked potential (MEP) and motor learning. However, recent findings have shown that the known linear effect is invalid in a 2 mA stimulation for 20 min, where cathodal stimulation led to excitability, rather than inhibition, as measured by MEP changes. Here we aim to replicate the non-linear effect of cathodal stimulation over the M1, using a cognitive task. Twenty-two healthy subjects participated in three sessions, where they were administered with a 2 mA anodal and cathodal stimulation for 20 min over the left M1, and a sham stimulation, while performing the serial reaction time task (SRTT). The overall analysis failed to show any effects of either polarity of tDCS on SRTT performance and hence did not replicate previous findings. However, given our goal to replicate the previously reported reversed polarity effects on MEP, we conducted an exploratory analysis to see whether there were any more subtle signs of a change in sign of the cathodal effect compared with anodal. Anodal stimulation led to faster performance than cathodal stimulation before 13 min of stimulation have passed, however, after 13 min, the pattern had switched, and performance under cathodal stimulation was faster. We conclude that cathodal tDCS has a non-linear effect, and the known polarity-dependent effects of tDCS shift after 13 min of stimulation, leading to an increased, rather than decreased, excitability.


Primary motor cortex Serial reaction time task Non-linear effect 



This study was supported by the Israel Science Foundation, Grant no. 367/14.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Baruch Ivcher School of PsychologyInterdisciplinary CenterHerzliyaIsrael
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyBar Ilan UniversityRamat GanIsrael
  3. 3.The Gonda Multidiciplinary Brain Research CenterBar Ilan UniversityRamat GanIsrael

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