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Spatial and polarity precision of concentric high-definition transcranial direct current stimulation (HD-tDCS)

IOPScience: Physics in Medicine and Biology, Volume 61, Number 12, 4506-4521, 2016, Click here for full paper

Mahtab Alam, Dennis Q Truong, Niranjan Khadka and Marom Bikson


Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a non-invasive neuromodulation technique that applies low amplitude current via electrodes placed on the scalp. Rather than directly eliciting a neuronal response, tDCS is believed to modulate excitability—enhancing or suppressing neuronal activity in regions of the brain depending on the polarity of stimulation. The specificity of tDCS to any therapeutic application derives in part from how electrode configuration determines the brain regions that are stimulated. Conventional tDCS uses two relatively large pads (>25 cm2) whereas high-definition tDCS (HD-tDCS) uses arrays of smaller electrodes to enhance brain targeting. The 4  ×  1 concentric ring HD-tDCS (one center electrode surrounded by four returns) has been explored in application where focal targeting of cortex is desired. Here, we considered optimization of concentric ring HD-tDCS for targeting: the role of electrodes in the ring and the ring’s diameter. Finite element models predicted cortical electric field generated during tDCS. High resolution MRIs were segmented into seven tissue/material masks of varying conductivities. Computer aided design (CAD) model of electrodes, gel, and sponge pads were incorporated into the segmentation. Volume meshes were generated and the Laplace equation ($\nabla $  centerdot (σ $\nabla $  V)  =  0) was solved for cortical electric field, which was interpreted using physiological assumptions to correlate with stimulation and modulation. Cortical field intensity was predicted to increase with increasing ring diameter at the cost of focality while uni-directionality decreased. Additional surrounding ring electrodes increased uni-directionality while lowering cortical field intensity and increasing focality; though, this effect saturated and more than 4 surround electrode would not be justified. Using a range of concentric HD-tDCS montages, we showed that cortical region of influence can be controlled while balancing other design factors such as intensity at the target and uni-directionality. Furthermore, the evaluated concentric HD-tDCS approaches can provide categorical improvements in targeting compared to conventional tDCS. Hypothesis driven clinical trials, based on specific target engagement, would benefit by this more precise method of stimulation that could avoid potentially confounding brain regions.