Impact of Anodal and Cathodal Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation over the Left Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex during Attention Bias Modification: An Eye-Tracking Study

Alexandre Heeren, Chris Baeken, Marie-Anne Vanderhasselt, Pierre Philippot, Rudi de Raedt
PloS One 2015, 10 (4): e0124182
People with anxiety disorders show an attentional bias for threat (AB), and Attention Bias Modification (ABM) procedures have been found to reduce this bias. However, the underlying processes accounting for this effect remain poorly understood. One explanation suggests that ABM requires the modification of attention control, driven by the recruitment of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). In the present double-blind study, we examined whether modifying left DLPFC activation influences the effect of ABM on AB. We used transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to directly modulate cortical excitability of the left DLPFC during an ABM procedure designed to reduce AB to threat. Anodal tDCS increases excitability, whereas cathodal tDCS decreases it. We randomly assigned highly trait-anxious individuals to one of three conditions: 1) ABM combined with cathodal tDCS, 2) ABM combined with anodal tDCS, or 3) ABM combined with sham tDCS. We assessed the effects of these manipulations on both reaction times and eye-movements on a task indexing AB. Results indicate that combining ABM and anodal tDCS over the left DLPFC reduces the total duration that participants' gaze remains fixated on threat, as assessed using eye-tracking measurement. However, in contrast to previous studies, there were no changes in AB from baseline to post-training for participants that received ABM without tDCS. As the tendency to maintain attention to threat is known to play an important role in the maintenance of anxiety, the present findings suggest that anodal tDCS over the left DLPFC may be considered as a promising tool to reduce the maintenance of gaze to threat. Implications for future translational research combining ABM and tDCS are discussed.

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