Transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) is used as a noninvasive tool for cognitive enhancement and clinical applications. The physiological effects of tACS, however, are complex and poorly understood. Most studies of tACS focus on its ability to entrain brain oscillations, but our behavioral results in humans and extracellular recordings in nonhuman primates support the view that tACS at 10 Hz also affects brain function by reducing sensory adaptation. Our primary goal in the present study is to test this hypothesis using blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) imaging in human subjects. Using concurrent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and tACS, and a motion adaptation paradigm developed to quantify BOLD adaptation, we show that tACS significantly attenuates adaptation in the human motion area (hMT+). In addition, an exploratory analysis shows that tACS increases functional connectivity of the stimulated hMT+ with the rest of the brain and the dorsal attention network in particular. Based on field estimates from individualized head models, we relate these changes to the strength of tACS-induced electric fields. Specifically, we report that functional connectivity (between hMT+ and any other region of interest) increases in proportion to the field strength in the region of interest. These findings add support for the claim that weak 10-Hz currents applied to the scalp modulate both local and global measures of brain activity. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Concurrent transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) and functional MRI show that tACS affects the human brain by attenuating adaptation and increasing functional connectivity in a dose-dependent manner. This work is important for our basic understanding of what tACS does, but also for therapeutic applications, which need insight into the full range of ways in which tACS affects the brain.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Functional connectivity
- Motion adaptation
- Transcranial alternating current stimulation