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J Neurosci. 2019 Jul 10;39(28):5551-5561. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3248-18.2019. Epub 2019 May 27.

Boosting Learning Efficacy with Noninvasive Brain Stimulation in Intact and Brain-Damaged Humans.

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Center for Neuroscience and Cognitive Systems@UniTn, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, 38068 Rovereto (TN), Italy.
Center for Mind/Brain Sciences, University of Trento, 38068 Rovereto, Italy.
kbo-Klinikum-Inn-Salzach, 83512 Wasserburg am Inn, Germany.
Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Flaum Eye Institute and Center for Visual Science, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York 14642.
Center for Neuroscience and Cognitive Systems@UniTn, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, 38068 Rovereto (TN), Italy,
Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation and Department of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, and.
Cognitive Neuropsychology Laboratory, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138.


Numerous behavioral studies have shown that visual function can improve with training, although perceptual refinements generally require weeks to months of training to attain. This, along with questions about long-term retention of learning, limits practical and clinical applications of many such paradigms. Here, we show for the first time in female and male human participants that just 10 d of visual training coupled with transcranial random noise stimulation (tRNS) over visual areas causes dramatic improvements in visual motion perception. Relative to control conditions and anodal stimulation, tRNS-enhanced learning was at least twice as fast, and, crucially, it persisted for 6 months after the end of training and stimulation. Notably, tRNS also boosted learning in patients with chronic cortical blindness, leading to recovery of motion processing in the blind field after just 10 d of training, a period too short to elicit enhancements with training alone. In sum, our results reveal a remarkable enhancement of the capacity for long-lasting plastic and restorative changes when a neuromodulatory intervention is coupled with visual training.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Our work demonstrates that visual training coupled with brain stimulation can dramatically reduce the training period from months to weeks, and lead to fast improvement in neurotypical subjects and chronic cortically blind patients, indicating the potential of our procedure to help restore damaged visual abilities for currently untreatable visual dysfunctions. Together, these results indicate the critical role of early visual areas in perceptual learning and reveal its capacity for long-lasting plastic changes promoted by neuromodulatory intervention.


cortical plasticity; noninvasive brain stimulation; perceptual learning; stroke recovery; tRNS; visual areas

[Available on 2020-01-10]

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