Stimulation of Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex Enhances Adaptive Cognitive Control: A High-Definition Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Study.J Neurosci. 2016 12 14; 36(50):12530-12536.JN
Conflict adaptation is a hallmark effect of adaptive cognitive control and refers to the adjustment of control to the level of previously experienced conflict. Conflict monitoring theory assumes that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) is causally involved in this adjustment. However, to date, evidence in humans is predominantly correlational, and heterogeneous with respect to the lateralization of control in the DLPFC. We used high-definition transcranial direct current stimulation (HD-tDCS), which allows for more focal current delivery than conventional tDCS, to clarify the causal involvement of the DLPFC in conflict adaptation. Specifically, we investigated the regional specificity and lateralization of potential beneficial stimulation effects on conflict adaptation during a visual flanker task. One hundred twenty healthy participants were assigned to four HD-tDCS conditions: left or right DLPFC or left or right primary motor cortex (M1). Each group underwent both active and sham HD-tDCS in crossover, double-blind designs. We obtained a sizeable conflict adaptation effect (measured as the modulation of the flanker effect as a function of previous response conflict) in all groups and conditions. However, this effect was larger under active HD-tDCS than under sham stimulation in both DLPFC groups. In contrast, active stimulation had no effect on conflict adaptation in the M1 groups. In sum, the present results indicate that the DLPFC plays a causal role in adaptive cognitive control, but that the involvement of DLPFC in control is not restricted to the left or right hemisphere. Moreover, our study confirms the potential of HD-tDCS to modulate cognition in a regionally specific manner.
Conflict adaptation is a hallmark effect of adaptive cognitive control. While animal studies have suggested causal involvement of the DLPFC in this phenomenon, such evidence is currently lacking in humans. The present study used high-definition transcranial direct current stimulation (HD-tDCS) to demonstrate that the DLPFC is causally involved in conflict adaptation in humans. Our study confirms a central claim of conflict monitoring theory, which up to now has predominantly relied on correlational studies. Our results further indicate an equal involvement of the left and right DLPFC in adaptive control, whereas stimulation of a control region-the primary motor cortex-had no effect on adaptive control. The study thus confirms the potential of HD-tDCS to modulate cognition in a regionally specific manner.