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Phys Med Biol. 2012 Oct 21;57(20):6459-77. doi: 10.1088/0031-9155/57/20/6459. Epub 2012 Sep 21.

The point spread function of the human head and its implications for transcranial current stimulation.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, City College of New York, New York, NY 10031, USA.


Rational development of transcranial current stimulation (tCS) requires solving the 'forward problem': the computation of the electric field distribution in the head resulting from the application of scalp currents. Derivation of forward models has represented a major effort in brain stimulation research, with model complexity ranging from spherical shells to individualized head models based on magnetic resonance imagery. Despite such effort, an easily accessible benchmark head model is greatly needed when individualized modeling is either undesired (to observe general population trends as opposed to individual differences) or unfeasible. Here, we derive a closed-form linear system which relates the applied current to the induced electric potential. It is shown that in the spherical harmonic (Fourier) domain, a simple scalar multiplication relates the current density on the scalp to the electric potential in the brain. Equivalently, the current density in the head follows as the spherical convolution between the scalp current distribution and the point spread function of the head, which we derive. Thus, if one knows the spherical harmonic representation of the scalp current (i.e. the electrode locations and current intensity to be employed), one can easily compute the resulting electric field at any point inside the head. Conversely, one may also readily determine the scalp current distribution required to generate an arbitrary electric field in the brain (the 'backward problem' in tCS). We demonstrate the simplicity and utility of the model with a series of characteristic curves which sweep across a variety of stimulation parameters: electrode size, depth of stimulation, head size and anode-cathode separation. Finally, theoretically optimal montages for targeting an infinitesimal point in the brain are shown.

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