Frontiers in Neurology (Feb 2021)

Neurobiological After-Effects of Low Intensity Transcranial Electric Stimulation of the Human Nervous System: From Basic Mechanisms to Metaplasticity

  • Sohaib Ali Korai,
  • Federico Ranieri,
  • Vincenzo Di Lazzaro,
  • Michele Papa,
  • Michele Papa,
  • Giovanni Cirillo,
  • Giovanni Cirillo

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 12


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Non-invasive low-intensity transcranial electrical stimulation (tES) of the brain is an evolving field that has brought remarkable attention in the past few decades for its ability to directly modulate specific brain functions. Neurobiological after-effects of tES seems to be related to changes in neuronal and synaptic excitability and plasticity, however mechanisms are still far from being elucidated. We aim to review recent results from in vitro and in vivo studies that highlight molecular and cellular mechanisms of transcranial direct (tDCS) and alternating (tACS) current stimulation. Changes in membrane potential and neural synchronization explain the ongoing and short-lasting effects of tES, while changes induced in existing proteins and new protein synthesis is required for long-lasting plastic changes (LTP/LTD). Glial cells, for decades supporting elements, are now considered constitutive part of the synapse and might contribute to the mechanisms of synaptic plasticity. This review brings into focus the neurobiological mechanisms and after-effects of tDCS and tACS from in vitro and in vivo studies, in both animals and humans, highlighting possible pathways for the development of targeted therapeutic applications.