Interaction of task-related learning and transcranial direct current stimulation of the prefrontal cortex in modulating executive functions.


Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, Department of Physiology, Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, Monash University, Victoria, 3800, Australia; ARC Centre of Excellence for Integrative Brain Function, Monash University, Australia. Electronic address: [Email]


The effects of transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) on cognitive functions, such as response inhibition, might be mediated through plastic changes within the prefrontal cortex. Previous studies have also confirmed learning-related plasticity in prefrontal neurocircuitry. The susceptibility of prefrontal neurocircuitry for tDCS-induced plastic changes and consequent behavioural modulations might depend on the level of learning in a particular task. Variabilities in the cognitive outcome of tDCS might be related to the interaction of tDCS and task-relevant learning. 73 participants completed the Stop Task before and after tDCS over the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Participants had to deliver a speeded response upon the onset of a visual go-cue and inhibit the response when the go-cue was replaced by a stop signal. We measured response time (RT) in Go trials, and stop signal reaction time (SSRT) as an index of inhibition ability. A shorter SSRT indicates a better inhibition ability. Participants received either anodal or sham stimulation in two separate sessions (one week apart). RT was increased and SSRT became shorter from pre-stimulation to post-stimulation testing, indicating within-session learning. Furthermore, compared to the first week of testing, RT was increased and SSRT became shorter in the second week, indicating across-session learning. Within-session learning was significantly higher if anodal stimulation was given in the first week rather than the second week indicating that the behavioural effects of tDCS were dependent on the level of learning. Our findings indicate that tDCS effects on executive functions are dependent on the level of experience (learning) in the cognitive task.


Learning,Stimulation induced behavioural modulation,Stop task,Transcranial direct-current stimulation,