Background: Cerebellar transcranial direct current stimulation has been reported to enhance motor associative learning and motor adaptation, holding promise for clinical application in patients with movement disorders. However, behavioral benefits from cerebellar tDCS have been inconsistent. Objective: Identifying determinants of treatment success is necessary. BDNF Val66Met is a candidate determinant, because the polymorphism is associated with motor skill learning and BDNF is thought to mediate tDCS effects. Methods: We undertook two cerebellar tDCS studies in subjects genotyped for BDNF Val66Met. Subjects performed an eyeblink conditioning task and received sham, anodal or cathodal tDCS (N = 117, between-subjects design) or a vestibulo-ocular reflex adaptation task and received sham and anodal tDCS (N = 51 subjects, within-subjects design). Performance was quantified as a learning parameter from 0 to 100%. We investigated (1) the distribution of the learning parameter with mixture modeling presented as the mean (M), standard deviation (S) and proportion (P) of the groups, and (2) the role of BDNF Val66Met and cerebellar tDCS using linear regression presented as the regression coefficients (B) and odds ratios (OR) with equally-tailed intervals (ETIs). Results: For the eyeblink conditioning task, we found distinct groups of learners (MLearner = 67.2%; SLearner = 14.7%; PLearner = 61.6%) and non-learners (MNon-learner = 14.2%; SNon-learner = 8.0%; PNon-learner = 38.4%). Carriers of the BDNF Val66Met polymorphism were more likely to be learners (OR = 2.7 [1.2 6.2]). Within the group of learners, anodal tDCS supported eyeblink conditioning in BDNF Val66Met non-carriers (B = 11.9% 95%ETI = [0.8 23.0]%), but not in carriers (B = 1.0% 95%ETI = [-10.2 12.1]%). For the vestibulo-ocular reflex adaptation task, we found no effect of BDNF Val66Met (B = −2.0% 95%ETI = [-8.7 4.7]%) or anodal tDCS in either carriers (B = 3.4% 95%ETI = [-3.2 9.5]%) or non-carriers (B = 0.6% 95%ETI = [-3.4 4.8]%). Finally, we performed additional saccade and visuomotor adaptation experiments (N = 72) to investigate the general role of BDNF Val66Met in cerebellum-dependent learning and found no difference between carriers and non-carriers for both saccade (B = 1.0% 95%ETI = [-8.6 10.6]%) and visuomotor adaptation (B = 2.7% 95%ETI = [-2.5 7.9]%). Conclusions: The specific role for BDNF Val66Met in eyeblink conditioning, but not vestibulo-ocular reflex adaptation, saccade adaptation or visuomotor adaptation could be related to dominance of the role of simple spike suppression of cerebellar Purkinje cells with a high baseline firing frequency in eyeblink conditioning. Susceptibility of non-carriers to anodal tDCS in eyeblink conditioning might be explained by a relatively larger effect of tDCS-induced subthreshold depolarization in this group, which might increase the spontaneous firing frequency up to the level of that of the carriers.

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Keywords BDNF Val66Met, Cerebellum, Motor adaptation, Motor learning, Rehabilitation, tDCS
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Journal Brain Stimulation
Van Der Vliet, R, Jonker, Z.D. (Zeb D.), Louwen, S.C. (Suzanne C.), Heuvelman, M. (Marco), de Vreede, L. (Linda), Ribbers, G.M, … Frens, M.A. (2018). Cerebellar transcranial direct current stimulation interacts with BDNF Val66Met in motor learning. Brain Stimulation. doi:10.1016/j.brs.2018.04.009