Does transcranial electrical stimulation enhance corticospinal excitability of the motor cortex in healthy individuals? A systematic review and meta-analysis

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Numerous studies have explored the effects of transcranial electrical stimulation (tES) - including anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (a-tDCS), cathodal transcranial direct current stimulation (c-tDCS), transcranial alternative current stimulation (tACS), transcranial random noise stimulation (tRNS) and transcranial pulsed current stimulation (tPCS) - on corticospinal excitability (CSE) in healthy populations. However, the efficacy of these techniques and their optimal parameters for producing robust results has not been studied. Thus, the aim of this systematic review was to consolidate current knowledge about the effects of various parameters of a-tDCS, c-tDCS, tACS, tRNS and tPCS on the CSE of the primary motor cortex (M1) in healthy people. Leading electronic databases were searched for relevant studies published between January 1990 and February 2017; 126 articles were identified, and their results were extracted and analysed using RevMan software. The meta-analysis showed that a-tDCS application on the dominant side significantly increases CSE (P < 0.01) and that the efficacy of a-tDCS is dependent on current density and duration of application. Similar results were obtained for stimulation of M1 on the non-dominant side (P = 0.003). The effects of a-tDCS reduce significantly after 24 h (P = 0.006). Meta-analysis also revealed significant reduction in CSE following c-tDCS (P < 0.001) and significant increases after tRNS (P = 0.03) and tPCS (P = 0.01). However, tACS effects on CSE were only significant when the stimulation frequency was ≥140 Hz. This review provides evidence that tES has substantial effects on CSE in healthy individuals for a range of stimulus parameters.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1968-1990
Number of pages23
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS)
  • Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS)
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)
  • Transcranial pulsed current stimulation (tPCS)
  • Transcranial random noise stimulation (tRNS)

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