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Neurocognitive Effects of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation in Arithmetic Learning and Performance: A Simultaneous tDCS-fMRI Study


Hauser, Tobias U; Rütsche, Bruno; Wurmitzer, Karoline; Brem, Silvia; Ruff, Christian C; Grabner, Roland H (2016). Neurocognitive Effects of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation in Arithmetic Learning and Performance: A Simultaneous tDCS-fMRI Study. Brain Stimulation, 9(6):850-858.

Abstract

BACKGROUND A small but increasing number of studies suggest that non-invasive brain stimulation by means of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) can modulate arithmetic processes that are essential for higher-order mathematical skills and that are impaired in dyscalculic individuals. However, little is known about the neural mechanisms underlying such stimulation effects, and whether they are specific to cognitive processes involved in different arithmetic tasks. METHODS We addressed these questions by applying tDCS during simultaneous functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while participants were solving two types of complex subtraction problems: repeated problems, relying on arithmetic fact learning and problem-solving by fact retrieval, and novel problems, requiring calculation procedures. Twenty participants receiving left parietal anodal plus right frontal cathodal stimulation were compared with 20 participants in a sham condition. RESULTS We found a strong cognitive and neural dissociation between repeated and novel problems. Repeated problems were solved more accurately and elicited increased activity in the bilateral angular gyri and medial plus lateral prefrontal cortices. Solving novel problems, in contrast, was accompanied by stronger activation in the bilateral intraparietal sulci and the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. Most importantly, tDCS decreased the activation of the right inferior frontal cortex while solving novel (compared to repeated) problems, suggesting that the cathodal stimulation rendered this region unable to respond to the task-specific cognitive demand. CONCLUSIONS The present study revealed that tDCS during arithmetic problem-solving can modulate the neural activity in proximity to the electrodes specifically when the current demands lead to an engagement of this area.

Abstract

BACKGROUND A small but increasing number of studies suggest that non-invasive brain stimulation by means of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) can modulate arithmetic processes that are essential for higher-order mathematical skills and that are impaired in dyscalculic individuals. However, little is known about the neural mechanisms underlying such stimulation effects, and whether they are specific to cognitive processes involved in different arithmetic tasks. METHODS We addressed these questions by applying tDCS during simultaneous functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while participants were solving two types of complex subtraction problems: repeated problems, relying on arithmetic fact learning and problem-solving by fact retrieval, and novel problems, requiring calculation procedures. Twenty participants receiving left parietal anodal plus right frontal cathodal stimulation were compared with 20 participants in a sham condition. RESULTS We found a strong cognitive and neural dissociation between repeated and novel problems. Repeated problems were solved more accurately and elicited increased activity in the bilateral angular gyri and medial plus lateral prefrontal cortices. Solving novel problems, in contrast, was accompanied by stronger activation in the bilateral intraparietal sulci and the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. Most importantly, tDCS decreased the activation of the right inferior frontal cortex while solving novel (compared to repeated) problems, suggesting that the cathodal stimulation rendered this region unable to respond to the task-specific cognitive demand. CONCLUSIONS The present study revealed that tDCS during arithmetic problem-solving can modulate the neural activity in proximity to the electrodes specifically when the current demands lead to an engagement of this area.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:03 Faculty of Economics > Department of Economics
04 Faculty of Medicine > Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich > Center for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
04 Faculty of Medicine > Neuroscience Center Zurich
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Language:English
Date:20 July 2016
Deposited On:26 Aug 2016 10:22
Last Modified:20 Feb 2018 08:18
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:1876-4754
OA Status:Green
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brs.2016.07.007
PubMed ID:27522169

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