Background: Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a non-invasive brain stimulation technique that has the potential to induce motor cortical plasticity in humans. It is well known that motor cortical plasticity plays an essential role in motor learning and recovery in patients with stroke and neurodegenerative disorders. However, it remains unclear how cognitive function influences motor cortical plasticity induced by tDCS. The present study aimed to investigate whether anodal tDCS combined with attention to a target muscle could enhance motor cortical plasticity and improve motor learning in healthy individuals. Methods: Thirty-three healthy volunteers were assigned to two experiments. In experiment 1, there were three interventional conditions: 1) anodal tDCS was applied while participants paid attention to the first dorsal interosseous (FDI) muscle, 2) anodal tDCS was applied while participants paid attention to the sound, and 3) anodal tDCS was applied without the participants paying attention to the FDI muscle or the sound. Anodal tDCS (2 mA, 10 min) was applied over the primary motor cortex (M1). Changes in motor evoked potentials (MEPs), short-interval intracortical inhibition (SICI), and intracortical facilitation (ICF) were assessed before and immediately after (0 min), and then 10 min, 30 min, and 60 min after each intervention. In experiment 2, we investigated whether the combination of anodal tDCS and attention to the abductor pollicis brevis (APB) muscle could facilitate the learning of a ballistic thumb movement. Results: Anodal tDCS increased cortical excitability in all conditions immediately after the stimulation. Significant increases in MEPs and significant decreases in SICI were observed for at least 60 min after anodal tDCS, but only when participants paid attention to the FDI muscle. In contrast, no significant changes in ICF were observed in any condition. In experiment 2, the combination of tDCS and attention to the APB muscle significantly enhanced the acquisition of a ballistic thumb movement. The higher performance was still observed 7 days after the stimulation. Conclusions: This study shows that anodal tDCS over M1 in conjunction with attention to the target muscle enhances motor cortex plasticity and improves motor learning in healthy adults. These findings suggest that a combination of attention and tDCS may be an effective strategy to promote rehabilitation training in patients with stroke and neurodegenerative disorders. Trial registration: Retrospectively registered (UMIN000036848).
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Health Informatics