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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Dual-hemisphere tDCS facilitates greater improvements for healthy subjects' non-dominant hand compared to uni-hemisphere stimulation

Bradley W Vines12, Carlo Cerruti13 and Gottfried Schlaug1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02215, USA

2 Institute of Mental Health, Department of Psychiatry, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z3, Canada

3 Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA

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BMC Neuroscience 2008, 9:103  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-9-103

Published: 28 October 2008

Abstract

Background

Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a non-invasive technique that has been found to modulate the excitability of neurons in the brain. The polarity of the current applied to the scalp determines the effects of tDCS on the underlying tissue: anodal tDCS increases excitability, whereas cathodal tDCS decreases excitability. Research has shown that applying anodal tDCS to the non-dominant motor cortex can improve motor performance for the non-dominant hand, presumably by means of changes in synaptic plasticity between neurons. Our previous studies also suggest that applying cathodal tDCS over the dominant motor cortex can improve performance for the non-dominant hand; this effect may result from modulating inhibitory projections (interhemispheric inhibition) between the motor cortices of the two hemispheres. We hypothesized that stimultaneously applying cathodal tDCS over the dominant motor cortex and anodal tDCS over the non-dominant motor cortex would have a greater effect on finger sequence performance for the non-dominant hand, compared to stimulating only the non-dominant motor cortex. Sixteen right-handed participants underwent three stimulation conditions: 1) dual-hemisphere – with anodal tDCS over the non-dominant motor cortex, and cathodal tDCS over the dominant motor cortex, 2) uni-hemisphere – with anodal tDCS over the non-dominant motor cortex, and 3) sham tDCS. Participants performed a finger-sequencing task with the non-dominant hand before and after each stimulation. The dependent variable was the percentage of change in performance, comparing pre- and post-tDCS scores.

Results

A repeated measures ANOVA yielded a significant effect of tDCS condition (F(2,30) = 4.468, p = .037). Post-hoc analyses revealed that dual-hemisphere stimulation improved performance significantly more than both uni-hemisphere (p = .021) and sham stimulation (p = .041).

Conclusion

We propose that simultaneously applying cathodal tDCS over the dominant motor cortex and anodal tDCS over the non-dominant motor cortex produced an additive effect, which facilitated motor performance in the non-dominant hand. These findings are relevant to motor skill learning and to research studies of motor recovery after stroke.