Meinzer, M., Lindenberg, R., Antonenko, D., Flaisch, T., & Flöel, A. (2013). Anodal transcranial direct current stimulation temporarily reverses age-associated cognitive decline and functional brain activity change. Journal of Neuroscience, 33, 12470-12478. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5743-12.2013
The rising proportion of elderly people worldwide will yield an increased incidence of age-associated cognitive impairments, imposing major burdens on societies. Consequently, growing interest emerged to evaluate new strategies to delay or counteract cognitive decline in aging. Here, we assessed immediate effects of anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (atDCS) on cognition and previously described detrimental changes in brain activity attributable to aging. Twenty healthy elderly adults were assessed in a crossover sham-controlled design using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and concurrent transcranial DCS administered to the left inferior frontal gyrus. Effects on performance and task-related brain activity were evaluated during overt semantic word generation, a task that is negatively affected by advanced age. Task-absent resting-state fMRI (RS-fMRI) assessed atDCS-induced changes at the network level independent of performance. Twenty matched younger adults served as controls. During sham stimulation, task-related fMRI demonstrated that enhanced bilateral prefrontal activity in older adults was associated with reduced performance. RS-fMRI revealed enhanced anterior and reduced posterior functional brain connectivity. atDCS significantly improved performance in older adults up to the level of younger controls; significantly reduced task-related hyperactivity in bilateral prefrontal cortices, the anterior cingulate gyrus, and the precuneus; and induced a more “youth-like” connectivity pattern during RS-fMRI. Our results provide converging evidence from behavioral analysis and two independent functional imaging paradigms that a single session of atDCS can temporarily reverse nonbeneficial effects of aging on cognition and brain activity and connectivity. These findings may translate into novel treatments to ameliorate cognitive decline in normal aging in the future.