Anodal tDCS affects neuromodulatory effects of the norepinephrine system on superior frontal theta activity during response inhibition

  • Nico Adelhöfer
  • Moritz Mückschel
  • Benjamin Teufert
  • Tjalf Ziemssen
  • Christian BesteEmail author
Original Article


Medial and superior frontal theta oscillations are important for response inhibition. The norepinephrine (NE) system has been shown to modulate these oscillations possibly via gain control mechanisms, which depend on the modulation of neuron membrane potentials. Because the latter are also modulated by tDCS, the interrelation of tDCS and NE effects on superior frontal theta band activity needs investigation. We test the hypothesis that anodal tDCS affects modulatory effects of the NE system on theta band activity during inhibitory control in superior frontal regions. Using EEG beamforming, theta band activity in the superior frontal gyrus (SFG) was integrated (correlated) with the pupil diameter data as an indirect index of NE activity. In a within-subject design, healthy participants completed a response inhibition task in two sessions in which they received 2 mA anodal tDCS over the vertex, or sham stimulation. There were no behavioral effects of anodal tDCS. Yet, tDCS affected correlations between SFG theta band activity time course and the pupil diameter time course. Correlations were evident after sham stimulation (r = .701; p < .004), but absent after anodal tDCS. The observed power of this dissociation was above 95%. The data suggest that anodal tDCS may eliminate neuromodulatory effects, likely of the NE system, on theta band activity during response inhibition in a structure of the response inhibition network. The NE system and tDCS seem to target similar mechanisms important for cognitive control in the prefrontal cortex. The results provide a hint why tDCS often fails to induce overt behavioral effects and shows that neurobiological systems, which may exert similar effects as tDCS on neural processes should closely be monitored in tDCS experiments.


Anodal tDCS EEG Pupil diameter Norepinephrine system Beamforming Superior frontal gyrus 



We thank all participants.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical statement

There are no conflicts of interest. The study was approved by the IRB of the TU Dresden. Written informed consent was obtained from all subjects before any of the study’s procedures were commenced. This work was supported by Grants from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) BE4045/26-1 and SFB 940 project B8 to C.B.


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Copyright information

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

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cognitive Neurophysiology, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine Carl Gustav CarusTU DresdenDresdenGermany
  2. 2.Department of Neurology, Faculty of Medicine, MS Centre DresdenTU DresdenDresdenGermany

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