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Direct current stimulation modulates the excitability of the sensory and motor fibres in the human posterior tibial nerve, with a long-lasting effect on the H-reflex

Journal article
Authors Francesco Bolzoni
R. Esposti
C. Bruttini
G. Zenoni
Elzbieta Jankowska
P. Cavallari
Published in European Journal of Neuroscience
Volume 46
Issue 9
Pages 2499-2506
ISSN 0953-816X
Publication year 2017
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology
Pages 2499-2506
Language en
Keywords DCS, human, M-wave, neuromodulation, peripheral nerve, human peripheral-nerve, spinal-cord, polarizing currents, hippocampal, slices, conduction block, latent addition, electric-fields, cerebral-cortex, in-vitro, rat, Neurosciences & Neurology
Subject categories Neurosciences


Several studies demonstrated that transcutaneous direct current stimulation (DCS) may modulate central nervous system excitability. However, much less is known about how DC affects peripheral nerve fibres. We investigated the action of DCS on motor and sensory fibres of the human posterior tibial nerve, with supplementary analysis in acute experiments on rats. In forty human subjects, electric pulses at the popliteal fossa were used to elicit either M-waves or H-reflexes in the Soleus, before (15 min), during (10 min) and after (30 min) DCS. Cathodal or anodal current (2 mA) was applied to the same nerve. Cathodal DCS significantly increased the H-reflex amplitude; the post-polarization effect lasted up to similar to 25 min after the termination of DCS. Anodal DCS instead significantly decreased the reflex amplitude for up to similar to 5 min after DCS end. DCS effects on M-wave showed the same polarity dependence but with considerably shorter after-effects, which never exceeded 5 min. DCS changed the excitability of both motor and sensory fibres. These effects and especially the long-lasting modulation of the H-reflex suggest a possible rehabilitative application of DCS that could be applied either to compensate an altered peripheral excitability or to modulate the afferent transmission to spinal and supraspinal structures. In animal experiments, DCS was applied, under anaesthesia, to either the exposed peroneus nerve or its Dorsal Root, and its effects closely resembled those found in human subjects. They validate therefore the use of the animal models for future investigations on the DCS mechanisms.

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