Mechanisms of Acute and After Effects of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation

  • Marom BiksonEmail author
  • Walter Paulus
  • Zeinab Esmaeilpour
  • Greg Kronberg
  • Michael A. Nitsche


The broad adoption of tDCS as a tool for non-invasive brain stimulation is fueled by evidence for its ability to alter cognition and behavior in healthy humans and patients suffering from neurological and psychiatric diseases. The rationale for tDCS is based on systematic characterization of mechanisms in animal and man. For understanding and improving efficacy for various applications in healthy subjects and in treatment, knowledge about physiological mechanisms is crucial. Here, studies exploring mechanisms at the microscopic, mesoscopic and macroscopic levels are relevant, spanning from in vitro slice experiments to animal behavior to imaging of the human brain. This chapter will supply a state of the art overview of human and animal data exploring mechanisms of tDCS, from acute to after effects, and from effects at the single cell level to neuronal networks. Currently available evidence suggests that the primary acute effects of tDCS derive from a shift of membrane potential, which depend on electrical current direction relative to neuronal orientation, while the after-effects involve synaptic plasticity. Beyond these regional effects, tDCS alters neuronal network physiology. The ability of tDCS to act as a modulator of ongoing activity and plasticity, underpins it flexibility toward varied applications. Emerging evidence suggests that tDCS effects are not restricted to neurons, but involve also other brain cells and structures. As with any neuromodulation, tDCS will invariably affect a large sub-set of neurons involved in multiple functions – considering the state-dependence of tDCS is thus important to understand specificity. Perhaps above any other neuromodulation technique, tDCS has been characterized by decades of supporting mechanistic research starting with classic animal studies, to canonical neurophysiological characterization in man, to modern advanced animal and human imaging studies.


Biophysics Neurophysiology Dose Mechanism Plasticity 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marom Bikson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Walter Paulus
    • 2
  • Zeinab Esmaeilpour
    • 3
  • Greg Kronberg
    • 3
  • Michael A. Nitsche
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Biomedical EngineeringThe City College of New YorkNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Clinical NeurophysiologyUniversity Medical Center GöttingenGöttingenGermany
  3. 3.Department of Biomedical EngineeringThe City College of the City University of New YorkNew YorkUSA
  4. 4.Department of Psychology and NeurosciencesLeibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human FactorsDortmundGermany
  5. 5.University Medical Hospital BergmannsheilBochumGermany

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