Modulating human procedural learning by cerebellar transcranial direct current stimulation

Roberta Ferrucci, Andre R. Brunoni, Marta Parazzini, Maurizio Vergari, Elena Rossi, Manuela Fumagalli, Francesca Mameli, Manuela Rosa, Gaia Giannicola, Stefano Zago, Alberto Priori

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Neuroimaging studies suggest that the cerebellum contributes to human cognitive processing, particularly procedural learning. This type of learning is often described as implicit learning and involves automatic, associative, and unintentional learning processes. Our aim was to investigate whether cerebellar transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) influences procedural learning as measured by the serial reaction time task (SRTT), in which subjects make speeded key press responses to visual cues. A preliminary modeling study demonstrated that our electrode montage (active electrode over the cerebellum with an extra-cephalic reference) generated the maximum electric field amplitude in the cerebellum. We enrolled 21 healthy subjects (aged 20-49 years). Participants did the SRTT, a visual analogue scale and a visual attention task, before and 35 min after receiving 20-min anodal and sham cerebellar tDCS in a randomized order. To avoid carry-over effects, experimental sessions were held at least 1 week apart. For our primary outcome measure (difference in RTs for random and repeated blocks) anodal versus sham tDCS, RTs were significantly slower for sham tDCS than for anodal cerebellar tDCS (p=0.04), demonstrating that anodal tDCS influenced implicit learning processes. When we assessed RTs for procedural learning across the one to eight blocks, we found that RTs changed significantly after anodal stimulation (interaction time×blocks 1/8: anodal, p=0.006), but after sham tDCS, they remained unchanged (p=0.094). No significant changes were found in the other variables assessed. Our finding that anodal cerebellar tDCS improves an implicit learning type essential to the development of several motor skills or cognitive activity suggests that the cerebellum has a critical role in procedural learning. tDCS could be a new tool for improving procedural learning in daily life in healthy subjects and for correcting abnormal learning in neuropsychiatric disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)485-492
Number of pages8
JournalCerebellum
Volume12
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013

Keywords

  • Cerebellar transcranial direct current stimulation
  • Cerebellum
  • DC modeling
  • Human procedural learning
  • Serial reaction time task

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology

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    Ferrucci, R., Brunoni, A. R., Parazzini, M., Vergari, M., Rossi, E., Fumagalli, M., Mameli, F., Rosa, M., Giannicola, G., Zago, S., & Priori, A. (2013). Modulating human procedural learning by cerebellar transcranial direct current stimulation. Cerebellum, 12(4), 485-492. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12311-012-0436-9