Monday, March 23, 2015

Impulse control with weak currents applied to the head - a new therapy?

Spieser et al. apply a very small current (1 milliamp) using the electrodes shown in the figure to slightly hyperpolarize, or make less excitable, the supplementary motor cortex, and find that this inhibits impulsive responses in a reaction time task.
To err is human. However, an inappropriate urge does not always result in error. Impulsive errors thus entail both a motor system capture by an urge to act and a failed inhibition of that impulse. Here we show that neuromodulatory electrical stimulation of the supplementary motor complex in healthy humans leaves action urges unchanged but prevents them from turning into overt errors. Subjects performed a choice reaction-time task known to trigger impulsive responses, leading to fast errors that can be revealed by analyzing accuracy as a function of poststimulus time. Yet, such fast errors are only the tip of the iceberg: electromyography (EMG) revealed fast subthreshold muscle activation in the incorrect response hand in an even larger proportion of overtly correct trials, revealing covert response impulses not discernible in overt behavior. Analyzing both overt and covert response tendencies enables to gauge the ability to prevent these incorrect impulses from turning into overt action errors. Hyperpolarizing the supplementary motor complex using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) preserves action impulses but prevents their behavioral expression. This new combination of detailed behavioral, EMG, and tDCS techniques clarifies the neurophysiology of impulse control, and may point to avenues for improving impulse control deficits in various neurologic and psychiatric disorders.

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