The effect of transcranial random noise stimulation on cognitive training outcome in healthy aging
Brambilla M., Dinkelbach L., Bigler A., Williams J., ZOKAEI N., COHEN KADOSH R., Brem A-K.
Background and objective: Aging is associated with a decline in attentional and executive abilities, which are linked to physiological, structural, and functional brain changes. A variety of novel noninvasive brain stimulation methods have been probed in terms of their neuroenhancement efficacy in the last decade; one that holds significant promise is transcranial random noise stimulation (tRNS) that delivers an alternate current at random amplitude and frequency. The aim of this study was to investigate whether repeated sessions of tRNS applied as an add-on to cognitive training (CT) may induce long-term near and far transfer cognitive improvements. Methods: In this sham-controlled, randomized, double-blinded study forty-two older adults (age range 60-86 years) were randomly assigned to one of three intervention groups that received 20 min of 0.705mA tRNS (N=14), 1mA tRNS (N=14), or sham tRNS (N=19) combined with 30 min of CT of executive functions (cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control, working memory). tRNS was applied bilaterally over the dorsolateral prefrontal cortices for five sessions. The primary outcome (non-verbal logical reasoning) and other cognitive functions (attention, memory, executive functions) were assessed before and after the intervention and at a one-month follow-up. Results: Non-verbal logical reasoning, inhibitory control and reaction time improved significantly over time, but stimulation did not differentially affect this improvement. These changes occurred during CT, while no further improvement was observed during follow-up. Performance change in logical reasoning was significantly correlated with age in the group receiving 1mA tRNS, indicating that older participants profited more from tRNS than younger participants. Performance change in nonverbal working memory was significantly correlated with age in the group receiving sham tRNS, indicating that in contrast to active tRNS, older participants in the sham group declined more than younger participants. Interpretation: CT induced cognitive improvements in all treatment groups, but tRNS did not modulate most of these cognitive improvements. However, the effect of tRNS depended on age in some cognitive functions. We discuss possible explanations leading to this result that can help to improve the design of future neuroenhancement studies in older populations.