BACKGROUND: There is a current discord between the foundational theories underpinning motor learning and how we currently apply transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS): the former is dependent on tight coupling of events while the latter is conducted with very low temporal resolution.
OBJECTIVE: Here we aimed to investigate the temporal specificity of stimulation by applying TDCS in short epochs, and coincidentally with movement, during a motor adaptation task.
METHODS: Participants simultaneously adapted a reaching movement to two opposing velocity-dependent force-fields (clockwise and counter-clockwise), distinguished by a contextual leftward or rightward shift in the task display and cursor location respectively. Brief bouts (<3 s) of event-related TDCS (er-TDCS) were applied over M1 or the cerebellum during movements for only one of these learning contexts.
RESULTS: We show that when short duration stimulation is applied to the cerebellum and yoked to movement, only those reaching movements performed simultaneously with stimulation are selectively enhanced, whilst similar and interleaved movements are left unaffected. We found no evidence of improved adaptation following M1 er-TDCS, as participants displayed equivalent levels of error during both stimulated and unstimulated movements. Similarly, participants in the sham stimulation group adapted comparably during left and right-shift trials.
CONCLUSIONS: It is proposed that the coupling of cerebellar stimulation and movement influences timing-dependent (i.e., Hebbian-like) mechanisms of plasticity to facilitate enhanced learning in the stimulated context.