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J Neurosci. 2009 Jul 15;29(28):9115-22. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2184-09.2009.

Modulation of cerebellar excitability by polarity-specific noninvasive direct current stimulation.

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  • 1Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Johns Hopkins Medical Institution, Baltimore, Maryland 21231, USA.

Abstract

The cerebellum is a crucial structure involved in movement control and cognitive processing. Noninvasive stimulation of the cerebellum results in neurophysiological and behavioral changes, an effect that has been attributed to modulation of cerebello-brain connectivity. At rest, the cerebellum exerts an overall inhibitory tone over the primary motor cortex (M1), cerebello-brain inhibition (CBI), likely through dentate-thalamo-cortical connections. The level of excitability of this pathway before and after stimulation of the cerebellum, however, has not been directly investigated. In this study, we used transcranial magnetic stimulation to determine changes in M1, brainstem, and CBI before and after 25 min of anodal, cathodal, or sham transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) applied over the right cerebellar cortex. We hypothesized that anodal tDCS would result in an enhancement of CBI and cathodal would decrease it, relative to sham stimulation. We found that cathodal tDCS resulted in a clear decrease of CBI, whereas anodal tDCS increased it, in the absence of changes after sham stimulation. These effects were specific to the cerebello-cortical connections with no changes in other M1 or brainstem excitability measures. The cathodal effect on CBI was found to be dependent on stimulation intensity and lasted up to 30 min after the cessation of tDCS. These results suggest that tDCS can modulate in a focal and polarity-specific manner cerebellar excitability, likely through changes in Purkinje cell activity. Therefore, direct current stimulation of the cerebellum may have significant potential implications for patients with cerebellar dysfunction as well as to motor control studies.

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