BACKGROUND: Transcranial electrical stimulation (tES) is a popular method to modulate brain activity by sending a weak electric current through the head. Despite its popularity, long-term effects are poorly understood.
OBJECTIVE: We wanted to test if anodal tES immediately changes cerebral responses to visual stimuli, and if repeated sessions of tES produce plasticity in these responses.
METHODS: We applied repeated anodal tES, like transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), but pulsed (8 s on, 10 s off), to the visual cortex of mice while visually presenting gratings. We measured the responses to these visual stimuli in the visual cortex using the genetically encoded calcium indicator GCaMP3.
RESULTS: We found an increase in the visual response when concurrently applying tES on the bone without skin (epicranially). This increase was only transient when tES was applied through the skin (transcutaneous). There was no immediate after-effect of tES. However, repeated transcutaneous tES for four sessions at two-day intervals increased the visual response in the visual cortex. This increase was not specific to the grating stimulus coupled to tES and also occurred for an orthogonal grating presented in the same sessions but without concurrent tES. No increase was found in mice that received no tES.
CONCLUSION: Our study provides evidence that tES induces long-term changes in the mouse brain. Results in mice do not directly translate to humans, because of differences in stimulation protocols and the way current translates to electric field strength in vastly different heads.