06 Jan Harnessing Brain Stimulation to Improve Brain Health: Using rTMS and tDCS
Brain stimulating activities such as memory games, crosswords, or reading improve and facilitate brain health and cognitive abilities. Thanks to advancements in technology, we can now use the power of electricity to augment cognitive function. Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation or rTMS and Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation or tDCS are non-invasive and painless brain stimulation techniques that have had promising outcomes to enhance cognitive function (1).
rTMS uses a magnetic field to induce electrical activity in a specific area of the brain. It can enhance or suppress brain activity depending on the stimulation parameters such as altering the signal frequency and intensity. In healthy individuals, studies have shown that rTMS can lead to improvements in memory and attention (2), and even mitigate symptoms in some clinical populations (3).
tDCS, on the other hand, applies a small electric current to the brain, altering its physiological state. When applied to areas of the brain related to executive function and memory, it can enhance cognitive function, including working memory and attention, in both healthy and clinical populations (4, 5). It has also shown promise in improving language acquisition and mathematical abilities in some other populations.
Both techniques influence the brain’s capacity to create new and strengthen existing neural pathways based on new experiences, otherwise known as brain plasticity. This is central to learning, memory, and recovery from brain injury. By modulating brain activity, rTMS and tDCS can promote positive changes brain circuitry that supports cognitive enhancement (6). There are some reports of using rTMS for depression, chronic pain, and cognitive dysfunction; other reports are using tDCS for treatment of COVID-19 Brain Fog.
There are two new and exciting technologies for the treatment of some cognitive disorders. When used in conjunction with cognitive training the effects of brain stimulation are amplified (7). rTMS and tDCS offer promising avenues for harnessing brain plasticity to enhance cognitive function.
1. Lefaucheur, J. P., et al. (2014). Evidence-based guidelines on the therapeutic use of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). Clinical Neurophysiology.
2. Plewnia, C., et al. (2013). Effects of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) on executive functions: influence of COMT Val/Met polymorphism. Cortex.
3. Spronk, D., et al. (2011). Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation in depression: Protocols, mechanisms, and new developments. Neurofeedback and Neuromodulation Techniques and Applications.
4. Miniussi, C., et al. (2008). Efficacy of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation/transcranial direct current stimulation in cognitive neurorehabilitation. Brain Stimulation.
5. Grover, S.,et al. (2022). Long-lasting, dissociable improvements in working memory and long-term memory in older adults with repetitive neuromodulation. Nature Neuroscience.
6. Chu, C-S., et al. (2021). Cognitive effects and acceptability of non-invasive brain stimulation on Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment: a component network meta-analysis. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry.
7. Snowball, A., et al. (2013). Long-term enhancement of brain function and cognition using cognitive training and brain stimulation. Current Biology.