Imaging transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) of the prefrontal cortex—correlation or causality in stimulation-mediated effects?

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Transcranial current stimulation approaches include neurophysiologically distinct non-invasive brain stimulation techniques widely applied in basic, translational and clinical research: transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), oscillating transcranial direct current stimulation (otDCS), transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) and transcranial random noise stimulation (tRNS). Prefrontal tDCS seems to be an especially promising tool for clinical practice. In order to effectively modulate relevant neural circuits, systematic research on prefrontal tDCS is needed that uses neuroimaging and neurophysiology measures to specifically target and adjust this method to physiological requirements. This review therefore analyses the various neuroimaging methods used in combination with prefrontal tDCS in healthy and psychiatric populations. First, we provide a systematic overview on applications, computational models and studies combining neuroimaging or neurophysiological measures with tDCS. Second, we categorise these studies in terms of their experimental designs and show that many studies do not vary the experimental conditions to the extent required to demonstrate specific relations between tDCS and its behavioural or neurophysiological effects. Finally, to support best-practice tDCS research we provide a methodological framework for orientation among experimental designs.

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