Transcranial electrical currents to probe EEG brain rhythms and memory consolidation during sleep in humans

Lisa Marshall*, Roumen Kirov, Julian Brade, Matthias Mölle, Jan Born

*Corresponding author for this work
120 Citations (Scopus)


Previously the application of a weak electric anodal current oscillating with a frequency of the sleep slow oscillation (~0.75 Hz) during non-rapid eye movement sleep (NonREM) sleep boosted endogenous slow oscillation activity and enhanced sleep-associated memory consolidation. The slow oscillations occurring during NonREM sleep and theta oscillations present during REM sleep have been considered of critical relevance for memory formation. Here transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) oscillating at 5 Hz, i.e., within the theta frequency range (theta-tDCS) is applied during NonREM and REM sleep. Theta-tDCS during NonREM sleep produced a global decrease in slow oscillatory activity conjoint with a local reduction of frontal slow EEG spindle power (8-12 Hz) and a decrement in consolidation of declarative memory, underlining the relevance of these cortical oscillations for sleep-dependent memory consolidation. In contrast, during REM sleep theta-tDCS appears to increase global gamma (25-45 Hz) activity, indicating a clear brain state-dependency of theta-tDCS. More generally, results demonstrate the suitability of oscillating-tDCS as a tool to analyze functions of endogenous EEG rhythms and underlying endogenous electric fields as well as the interactions between EEG rhythms of different frequencies.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere16905
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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