Spike-timing-dependent plasticity can account for connectivity aftereffects of dual-site transcranial alternating current stimulation

Bettina C. Schwab, Peter König, Andreas K. Engel

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Transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS), applied to two brain sites with different phase lags, has been shown to modulate stimulation-outlasting functional EEG connectivity between the targeted regions. Given the lack of knowledge on mechanisms of tACS aftereffects, it is difficult to further enhance effect sizes and reduce variability in experiments. In this computational study, we tested if spike-timing-dependent plasticity (STDP) can explain stimulation-outlasting connectivity modulation by dual-site tACS and explored the effects of tACS parameter choices. Two populations of spiking neurons were coupled with synapses subject to STDP, and results were validated via a re-analysis of EEG data. Our simulations showed stimulation-outlasting connectivity changes between in- and anti-phase tACS, dependent on both tACS frequency and synaptic conduction delays. Importantly, both a simple network entraining to a wide range of tACS frequencies as well as a more realistic network that spontaneously oscillated at alpha frequency predicted that the largest effects would occur for short conduction delays between the stimulated regions. This finding agreed with experimental EEG connectivity modulation by 10 Hz tACS, showing a clear negative correlation of tACS effects with estimated conduction delays between regions. In conclusion, STDP can explain connectivity aftereffects of dual-site tACS. However, not all combinations of tACS frequency and application sites are expected to effectively modulate connectivity via STDP. We therefore suggest using appropriate computational models and/or EEG analysis for planning and interpretation of dual-site tACS studies relying on aftereffects.
Original languageEnglish
Article number118179
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


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