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  Towards individualized transcranial electric stimulation therapy through computer simulation

Kalloch, B. (2021). Towards individualized transcranial electric stimulation therapy through computer simulation. PhD Thesis, Universität Leipzig.

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Kalloch, Benjamin1, 2, Author           
1Hochschule für Technik, Wirtschaft und Kultur Leipzig, Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 132 04277 Leipzig, ou_persistent22              
2Department Neurology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society, ou_634549              


Free keywords: Transcranial electric brain stimulation, simulation, magnetic resonance image processing, stroke, uncertainty analysis
 Abstract: Transcranial electric current stimulation (tES) denotes a group of brain stimulation techniques that apply a weak electric current over two or more non-invasively, head-mounted electrodes. When employing a direct-current, this method is denoted transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). The general aim of all tES techniques is the modulation of brain function by an up- or downregulation of brain activity. Among these, transcranial direct current stimulation is investigated as an adjuvant tool to promote processes of the microscopic reorganization of the brain as a consequence of learning and, more specifically, rehabilitation therapy after a stroke. Current challenges of this research are a high variability in the achieved stimulation effects across subjects and an incomplete understanding of the interplay between its underlying mechanisms. A key component to understanding the stimulation mechanism is considered the electric field, which is exerted by the electrodes and distributes in the subjects' heads. A principle concept assumes that brain areas exposed to a higher electric field strength likewise experience a higher stimulation. This attributes the positioning of the electrodes a decisive role for the stimulation. However, the electric field distributes non-uniformly across subjects' brains due to the heterogeneous electrical conductivity profile of the human head. Moreover, the distribution pattern is variable between subjects due to their individual anatomy. A trivial estimation of the distribution of the electric field solely based on the position of the stimulating electrodes is, therefore, not precise enough for a well-targeted stimulation. Computer-based biophysical simulations of transcranial electric stimulation enable the individual approximation of the distribution pattern of the electric field in subjects based on their medical imaging data. They are, thus, increasingly employed for the planning and verification of tDCS applications and constitute an essential tool on the way to individualized stroke rehabilitation therapy. Software pipelines facilitating the underlying individualized processing for a wide range of researchers have been developed for use in healthy adults over the past years, but, to date, the simulation of patients with abnormal brain tissue and structure disrupting lesions remains a non-trivial task. Therefore, the presented project was dedicated to establishing and practically applying a tES simulation workflow. The processing of medical imaging data of neurological patients with abnormal brain tissue was a central requirement in this process. The basic simulation workflow was first designed and validated for the simulation of healthy adults. This comprised compiling medical image processing algorithms into a comprehensive workflow to identify and extract electrically relevant physiological structures of the human head and upper torso from magnetic resonance images. The identified structures had to be converted to computational models. The underlying physical problem of electric volume conduction in biological tissue was solved by means of numeric simulation. Over the course of normal aging, the brain is subjected to structural alterations, among which a loss of brain volume and the development of microscopic alterations of its fiber structure are the most relevant. In a second step, the workflow was, thus, extended to incorporate these phenomena of normal aging. The main challenge in this subproject was the biophysical modeling of the altered brain microstructure as the resulting alterations to the conductivity profile of the brain were so far not quantified in the literature. Therefore, the augmentation of the workflow most notably included the modeling of uncertain electrical properties. With this, the influence of the uncertain electrical conductivity of the biological structures of the human head on the electric field could be assessed. In a simulation study, including imaging data of 88 subjects, the influence of the altered brain fiber structure on the electric field was then systematically investigated. These tissue alterations were found to exhibit a highly localized and generally low impact. Finally, in a third step, tDCS simulations of stroke patients were conducted. Their large, structure-disrupting lesions were modeled in a more detailed manner than in previous stroke simulation studies, and they were physically, again, modeled by uncertain electrical conductivity resulting in uncertain electric field estimates. Individually simulated electric fields were related to the brain activation of 18 patients, considering the inherently uncertain electric field estimations. The goal was to clarify whether the stimulation exerts a positive influence on brain function in the context of rehabilitation therapy supporting brain reorganization following a stroke. While a weak correlation could be established, further investigation will be necessary to answer that research question.


 Dates: 2021-05-032021-10-142021-11-29
 Publication Status: Published online
 Pages: -
 Publishing info: Universität Leipzig
 Table of Contents: -
 Rev. Type: -
 Identifiers: -
 Degree: PhD



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