Understanding the effects of cortical gyrification in tACS: insights from experiments and computational models

Cabrera-Álvarez, J.; Sánchez-Claros, J.; Carrasco-Gómez, M.; del Cerro-León, A.; Gómez-Ariza, C. J.; Maestú, F.; Mirasso, C. R.; Susi, G.
Frontiers in Neurosciences 17, 1223950 (2023)

The alpha rhythm is often associated with relaxed wakefulness or idling and is altered by various factors. Abnormalities in the alpha rhythm have been linked to several neurological and psychiatric disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease. Transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) has been proposed as a potential tool to restore a disrupted alpha rhythm in the brain by stimulating at the individual alpha frequency (IAF), although some research has produced contradictory results. In this study, we applied an IAF-tACS protocol over parieto-occipital areas to a sample of healthy subjects and measured its effects over the power spectra. Additionally, we used computational models to get a deeper understanding of the results observed in the experiment. Both experimental and numerical results showed an increase in alpha power of 8.02% with respect to the sham condition in a widespread set of regions in the cortex, excluding some expected parietal regions. This result could be partially explained by taking into account the orientation of the electric field with respect to the columnar structures of the cortex, showing that the gyrification in parietal regions could generate effects in opposite directions (hyper-/depolarization) at the same time in specific brain regions. Additionally, we used a network model of spiking neuronal populations to explore the effects that these opposite polarities could have on neural activity, and we found that the best predictor of alpha power was the average of the normal components of the electric field. To sum up, our study sheds light on the mechanisms underlying tACS brain activity modulation, using both empirical and computational approaches. Non-invasive brain stimulation techniques hold promise for treating brain disorders, but further research is needed to fully understand and control their effects on brain dynamics and cognition. Our findings contribute to this growing body of research and provide a foundation for future studies aimed at optimizing the use of non-invasive brain stimulation in clinical settings.

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