Site-specific effects of mental practice combined with transcranial direct current stimulation on motor learning


Correspondence: Katia Monte-Silva, as above.



Mental practice can induce significant neural plasticity and result in motor performance improvement if associated with motor imagery tasks. Given the effects of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) on neuroplasticity, the current study tested whether tDCS, using different electrode montages, can increase the neuroplastic effects of mental imagery on motor learning. Eighteen healthy right-handed adults underwent a randomised sham-controlled crossover experiment to receive mental training combined with either sham or active anodal tDCS of the right primary motor cortex (M1), right supplementary motor area, right premotor area, right cerebellum or left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). Motor performance was assessed by a blinded rater using: non-dominant handwriting time and legibility, and mentally trained task at baseline (pre) and immediately after (post) mental practice combined with tDCS. Active tDCS significantly enhances the motor-imagery-induced improvement in motor function as compared with sham tDCS. There was a specific effect for the site of stimulation such that effects were only observed after M1 and DLPFC stimulation during mental practice. These findings provide new insights into motor imagery training and point out that two cortical targets (M1 and DLPFC) are significantly associated with the neuroplastic effects of mental imagery on motor learning. Further studies should explore a similar paradigm in patients with brain lesions.