Things You Wanted to Know (But Might Have Been Afraid to Ask) About How and Why to Explore and Modulate Brain Plasticity With Non-Invasive Neurostimulation Technologies [Review]

SOURCE: Revue Neurologique. 178(8):826-844, 2022 Oct.

AUTHORS: Stengel C; Sanches C; Toba MN; Valero-Cabre A

ABSTRACT: Brain plasticity can be defined as the ability of local and extended neural systems to organize either the structure and/or the function of their connectivity patterns to better adapt to changes of our inner/outer environment and optimally respond to new challenging behavioral demands. Plasticity has been traditionally conceived as a spontaneous phenomenon naturally occurring during pre and postnatal development, tied to learning and memory processes, or enabled following neural damage and their rehabilitation. Such effects can be easily observed and measured but remain hard to harness or to tame ‘at will’. Non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS) technologies offer the possibility to engage plastic phenomena, and use this ability to characterize the relationship between brain regions, networks and their functional connectivity patterns with cognitive process or disease symptoms, to estimate cortical malleability, and ultimately contribute to neuropsychiatric therapy and rehabilitation. NIBS technologies are unique tools in the field of fundamental and clinical research in humans. Nonetheless, their abilities (and also limitations) remain rather unknown and in the hands of a small community of experts, compared to widely established methods such as functional neuroimaging (fMRI) or electrophysiology (EEG, MEG). In the current review, we first introduce the features, mechanisms of action and operational principles of the two most widely used NIBS methods, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) and Transcranial Current Stimulation (tCS), for exploratory or therapeutic purposes, emphasizing their bearings on neural plasticity mechanisms. In a second step, we walk the reader through two examples of recent domains explored by our team to further emphasize the potential and limitations of NIBS to either explore or improve brain function in healthy individuals and neuropsychiatric populations. A final outlook will identify a series of future topics of interest that can foster progress in the field and achieve more effective manipulation of brain plasticity and interventions to explore and improve cognition and treat the symptoms of neuropsychiatric diseases.