Dopamine depletion effects on cognitive flexibility as modulated by tDCS of the dlPFC

Ciara Borwick, Reece Lal, Lee Wei Lim, Charlotte J. Stagg, Luca Aquili

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Background: Recent evidence suggests that transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) may interact with the dopaminergic system to affect cognitive flexibility. 

Objective/hypotheses: We examined whether putative reduction of dopamine levels through the acute phenylalanine/tyrosine depletion (APTD) procedure and excitatory anodal tDCS of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) are causally related to cognitive flexibility as measured by task switching and reversal learning. 

Method: A double-blind, sham-controlled, randomised trial was conducted to test the effects of combining anodal tDCS and depletion of catecholaminergic precursor tyrosine on cognitive flexibility. 

Results: Anodal tDCS and tyrosine depletion had a significant effect on task switching, but not reversal learning. Whilst perseverative errors were significantly improved by anodal tDCS, the APTD impaired reaction times. Importantly, the combination of APTD and anodal tDCS resulted in cognitive performance which did not statistically differ to that of the control condition. 

Conclusions: Our results suggest that the effects of tDCS on cognitive flexibility are modulated by dopaminergic tone.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-108
Number of pages4
JournalBrain Stimulation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020
Externally publishedYes


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