Transcranial direct current stimulation reverses neurophysiological and behavioural effects of focal inhibition of human pharyngeal motor cortex on swallowing.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • External authors:
  • Satish Mistry
  • Samantha Jefferson
  • John C Rothwell


The human cortical swallowing system exhibits bilateral but functionally asymmetric representation in health and disease as evidenced by both focal cortical inhibition (pre-conditioning with 1 Hz repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation; rTMS) and unilateral stroke, where disruption of the stronger (dominant) pharyngeal projection alters swallowing neurophysiology and behaviour. Moreover, excitatory neurostimulation protocols capable of reversing the disruptive effects of focal cortical inhibition have demonstrated therapeutic promise in post-stroke dysphagia when applied contralaterally. In healthy participants (n = 15, 8 males, mean age (±SEM) 35 ± 9 years), optimal parameters of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) (anodal, 1.5 mA, 10 min) were applied contralaterally after 1 Hz rTMS pre-conditioning to the strongest pharyngeal projection. Swallowing neurophysiology was assessed in both hemispheres by intraluminal recordings of pharyngeal motor-evoked responses (PMEPs) to single-pulse TMS as a measure of cortical excitability. Swallowing behaviour was examined using a pressure-based reaction time protocol. Measurements were made before and for up to 60 min post intervention. Subjects were randomised to active or sham tDCS after 1 Hz rTMS on separate days and data were compared using repeated measures ANOVA. Active tDCS increased PMEPs bilaterally (F1,14 = 7.4, P = 0.017) reversing the inhibitory effects of 1 Hz rTMS in the pre-conditioned hemisphere (F1,14 = 10.1, P = 0.007). Active tDCS also enhanced swallowing behaviour, increasing the number of correctly timed challenge swallows compared to sham (F1,14 = 6.3, P = 0.025). Thus, tDCS to the contralateral pharyngeal motor cortex reverses the neurophysiological and behavioural effects of focal cortical inhibition on swallowing in healthy individuals and has therapeutic potential for dysphagia rehabilitation.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)695-709
Number of pages14
JournalThe Journal of physiology
Issue numberPt 4
Early online date22 Nov 2013
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2014

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