15 December 2015
human brain oscillations, offline aftereffects, transcranial alternating current stimulation, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), oscillatory transcranial direct current stimulation, entrainment, LTP/LTP-like plasticity
A number of rhythmic protocols have emerged for non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS) in humans, including transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS), oscillatory transcranial direct current stimulation (otDCS), and repetitive (also called rhythmic) transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). With these techniques, it is possible to match the frequency of the externally applied electromagnetic fields to the intrinsic frequency of oscillatory neural population activity (“frequency-tuning”). Mounting evidence suggests that by this means tACS, otDCS, and rTMS can entrain brain oscillations and promote associated functions in a frequency-specific manner, in particular during (i.e., online to) stimulation. Here, we focus instead on the changes in oscillatory brain activity that persist after the end of stimulation. Understanding such aftereffects in healthy participants is an important step for developing these techniques into potentially useful clinical tools for the treatment of specific patient groups. Reviewing the electrophysiological evidence in healthy participants, we find aftereffects on brain oscillations to be a common outcome following tACS/otDCS and rTMS. However, we did not find a consistent, predictable pattern of aftereffects across studies, which is in contrast to the relative homogeneity of reported online effects. This indicates that aftereffects are partially dissociated from online, frequency-specific (entrainment) effects during tACS/otDCS and rTMS. We outline possible accounts and future directions for a better understanding of the link between online entrainment and offline aftereffects, which will be key for developing more targeted interventions into oscillatory brain activity.