Transcranial direct current stimulation: before, during, or after motor training?

The ‘online’ (stimulation during training) vs. ‘offline’ (stimulation prior to or after training) question is addressed here in this study I only have the abstract for. But in this case “These data suggest that tDCS performed before – not during or after – promotes optimization of motor training-induced plasticity.” Keep in mind that, there are many (montage, kind of test/training) variables and that other studies have shown advantages to online training.

Noninvasive brain stimulation has recently been used to augment motor training-induced plasticity. However, the exact time during which noninvasive brain stimulation can be combined with motor therapy to maximize neuroplasticity and behavioral changes is unknown. We conducted a randomized sham-controlled crossover trial to examine when (before, during, or after training) transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) should be applied to best reinforce motor training-induced plasticity in 12 healthy right-handed participants (mean age: 21.8±1.6) who underwent active or sham tDCS combined with motor training. Transcranial magnetic stimulation-elicited motor-evoked potentials from the right first dorsal interosseous muscle were recorded before (baseline) and immediately after each session. The training task comprised four practice trials – 3 min each (30 s pause between trials) – of repetitive finger movements (thumb abduction/adduction) with the right hand. Anodal tDCS (1 mA, 13 min, on the motor primary cortex) was applied before, during, and after the training. Compared with baseline motor-evoked potentials and the sham condition, tDCS that was applied before, but not during or after, the motor task enhanced corticospinal excitability. These data suggest that tDCS performed before – not during or after – promotes optimization of motor training-induced plasticity.


Emphasis mine on “but over time it will also gradually rewire your neurons to prevent future attacks.” Very interesting considering the source, Marom Bickson. If you’ve been following the pop press on brain plasticity, you’ve certainly heard the phrase: “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Could this be a meta-framework for thinking about tDCS?

Head band and controller sourced from

Head band and controller sourced from the green electrode/strap on the right is the Soterix EasyStrap (see below)

Future medications for brain disorders could be delivered through electrodes rather than pills
By Marom Bikson and Peter Toshev

The pharmacist guides you to a shelf of headgear, labeled
with different brain regions. She fits you for a cap, the underside of which features thin conductive metal strips, called electrodes, coated in adhesive gel to stick gently to your scalp.
The electrodes link to a slim cable that dangles from the back of the cap. She then hands over the key component of your prescribed medication: an electric stimulator.
Once a day for the next week you will don the headgear
and plug the cable into this device for a 20-minute dose of
electricity. Setting aside your trepidation, you give it a try in front of the pharmacist. At first you feel only a tingling sensation and then relief.
As you wear the cap, an electric current is traveling from
the electrodes, past hair, scalp and bone, into the brain regions responsible for your migraines. At first it merely blunts the pain, but over time it will also gradually rewire your neurons to prevent future attacks. The pharmacist explains that you will be free to carry on with your day—finish chores, watch television, go for a walk– with the cap on your head, and when the dose is up, the stimulator will simply stop running.
When brain cells activate together, the connections among them grow stronger and more numerous. Cells that seldom fire in concert gradually lose their linkages. Adding tDCS can therefore heighten the brain’s ability to rewire itself—its plasticity.

See also: Zap Your Brain to Health with an Electrode Cap – Scientific American.
And: Giving the Brain a Buzz: The Ultimate in Self-Help or a Dangerous Distraction?

Soterix Accessories page. (I am not affiliated with Soterix or any other product mentioned on this blog).