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Transcranial direct current stimulation may activate the human cerebral cortex, study shows

Elsevier, News Medical Life Sciences |  September 19, 2016

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Reports new study in Biological Psychiatry

The notion that low levels of electrical stimulation applied to the scalp, barely enough to create a mild tingling sensation, could activate the brain is a relatively new and somewhat controversial idea. The technique, called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has been reported to modify mood, emotion, and cognition, yet researchers lack any evidence for how – or even if – it directly modulates brain activity. Still, some researchers see its potential for a new strategy to treat psychiatric disorders.

A new study in Biological Psychiatry is the first to measures changes in brain metabolism during tDCS. Led by senior author Shirley Fecteau of the Université Laval in Quebec, Canada, the study reports that tDCS increases levels of the neurotransmitters glutamate + glutamine-glutamate is the main activating chemical messenger in the brain-and N-acetylaspartate (NAA), an indicator of neuronal health. Both of these neurotransmitters support learning and adaptation in the brain.

“These interesting data provide chemical evidence suggesting that tDCS may activate the human cerebral cortex,” said John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. “This type of change would seem to be critical for producing behavioral and perhaps therapeutic effects.”

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