Accessibility of cortical regions to focal TES: Dependence on spatial position, safety, and practical constraints

Guilherme Bicalho Saturnino, Hartwig Roman Siebner, Axel Thielscher*, Kristoffer Hougaard Madsen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Transcranial electric stimulation (TES) can modulate intrinsic neural activity in the brain by injecting weak currents through electrodes attached to the scalp. TES has been widely used as a neuroscience tool to investigate how behavioural and physiological variables of brain function are modulated by electric stimulation of specific brain regions. For an unambiguous interpretation of TES experiments, it is important that the electric fields can be steered towards one or several brain regions-of-interest. However, the conductive proprieties of the human head impose inherent physical limitations on how focal the electric fields in the brain produced by multi-electrode TES can be. As a rule of thumb, it is not feasible to selectively target deep brain areas with TES, although focusing the field in some specific deeper locations might be possible due to favourable conductive properties in the surrounding tissue. In the present study, we first propose a computationally efficient method for the automatic determination of electrode placements and stimulation intensities to optimally affect a given target position. We provide a robust implementation of the optimization procedure that is able to adhere to safety constraints, while explicitly controlling both the number of active electrodes and the angular deviation of the field in the target area relative to the desired field direction. Leveraging the high computational efficiency of our method, we systematically assess the achievable focality of multi-electrode TES for all cortex positions, thereby investigating the dependence on the chosen constraints. Our results provide comprehensive insight into the limitations regarding the achievable TES dose and focality that are imposed by the biophysical constraints and the safety considerations of TES.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116183
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


  • Electric field simulations
  • Focality
  • Mapping
  • Optimization
  • Transcranial electric stimulation

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