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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2004 Feb;45(2):702-7.

Excitability changes induced in the human primary visual cortex by transcranial direct current stimulation: direct electrophysiological evidence.

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Department of Clinical Neurophysiology, Georg-August University, Göttingen, Germany.



Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has been shown to modify the perception threshold of phosphenes elicited by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). The current study was undertaken to examine whether tDCS, when applied over the occipital cortex, is also able to affect visual-evoked potentials (VEPs), which characterize occipital activation in response to visual stimulation, in a polarity-specific way.


For this purpose, VEPs evoked by sinusoidal luminance grating in an on/off mode were recorded before, immediately after, and 10, 20, and 30 minutes after the end of 5, 10, or 15 minutes of anodal or cathodal tDCS of the primary visual cortex.


Significant effects were observed only when low-contrast visual stimuli were applied. Cathodal stimulation decreased, whereas anodal stimulation increased the amplitude of the N70 component. The effect of cathodal stimulation was significant immediately after and 10 minutes after the end of stimulation, if the stimulation duration was sufficiently long (i.e., 10-15 minutes). An increase of N70 amplitude by anodal stimulation was significant only 10 minutes after the end of the 15 minutes tDCS. Cathodal stimulation tended also to affect the amplitude of the P100 component; however, the effect of stimulation was inverse. The amplitude increased immediately after the end of cathodal stimulation. In contrast, anodal stimulation did not affect the P100. The latencies of the N70 and the P100 were not affected by tDCS.


tDCS appears to be a suitable method of inducing reversible excitability changes in a polarity-specific way, not only in the motor but also in the primary visual cortex. The duration of the induced aftereffects depends not only on stimulation duration but also on stimulation polarity. Cathodal stimulation seems to be more effective, in line with previous reports on the motor cortex.

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