Systematic review of combined functional near-infrared spectroscopy and transcranial direct-current stimulation studies


Significance: Combining transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) with functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) is a recent approach to exploring brain activation evoked by neurostimulation. Aim: To critically evaluate studies combining tDCS and fNIRS and provide a consolidated overview of cortical hemodynamic responses to neurostimulation. Approach: Key terms were searched in three databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, and PsycINFO) with cross-referencing and works from Google Scholar also evaluated. All studies reporting on fNIRS-derived hemoglobin changes evoked by tDCS were included. Results: Literature searches revealed 474 articles, of which 28 were included for final review (22 in healthy individuals: 9 involving rest and 13 with tasks; 6 in the clinical setting). At rest, an overall increase in cortical activation was observed in fNIRS responses at the site of stimulation, with evidence suggesting nonstimulated brain regions are also similarly affected. Conversely, during tasks, reduced cortical activation was observed during online stimulation. Offline and poststimulation effects were less consistent, as is the impact on clinical populations and their symptom correlation. Conclusion: This review explores the methodological frameworks for fNIRS-tDCS evaluations and summarizes hemodynamic responses associated with tDCS in all populations. Our findings provide further evidence of the impact of tDCS on neuronal activation within functionally connected networks.