Prof. Fang Fang: Boosting visual perceptual learning by transcranial alternating current stimulation over the visual cortex at alpha frequency





  Transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) has been widely used to alter ongoing brain rhythms in a frequency-specific manner to modulate relevant cognitive functions, including visual functions. Therefore, it is a useful tool for exploring the causal role of neural oscillations in cognition. Visual functions can be improved substantially by training, which is called visual perceptual learning (VPL). However, whether and how tACS can modulate VPL is still unclear.


  This work aims to explore how tACS modulates VPL and the role of neural oscillations in VPL.


  A between-subjects design was adopted. Subjects were assigned to six groups and undertook five daily training sessions to execute an orientation discrimination task. During training, five groups received occipital tACS stimulation at 6, 10, 20, 40, and sham 10 Hz respectively, and one group was stimulated at the sensorimotor regions by 10 Hz tACS.


  Compared with the sham stimulation, occipital tACS at 10 Hz, but not at other frequencies, accelerated perceptual learning and increased the performance improvement. However, these modulatory effects were absent when 10 Hz tACS was delivered to the sensorimotor areas. Moreover, the tACS-induced performance improvement lasted at least two months after the end of training.


  TACS can facilitate orientation discrimination learning in a frequency- and location-specific manner. Our findings provide strong evidence for a pivotal role of alpha oscillations in boosting VPL and shed new light on the design of effective neuromodulation protocols that can facilitate rehabilitation for patients with neuro-ophthalmological disorders.

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