Neural oscillations are a key mechanism for information transfer in brain circuits. Rhythmic fluctuations of local field potentials control spike timing through cyclic membrane de- and hyperpolarization. Transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) is a non-invasive neuromodulation method which can directly interact with brain oscillatory activity by imposing an oscillating electric field on neurons. Despite its increasing use, the basic mechanisms of tACS are still not fully understood. Here, we investigate in a computational study the effects of tACS on morphologically realistic neurons with ongoing spiking activity. We characterize the membrane polarization as a function of electric field strength and subsequent effects on spiking activity in a set of 25 neurons from different neocortical layers. We find that tACS does not affect the firing rate of investigated neurons for electric field strengths applicable to human studies. However, we find that the applied electric fields entrain the spiking activity of large pyramidal neurons at < 1mV/mm field strengths. Our model results are in line with recent experimental studies and can provide a mechanistic framework to understand the effects of oscillating electric fields on single neuron activity. They highlight the importance of neuron morphology in responsiveness to electrical stimulation and suggest that large pyramidal neurons are most likely the prime target for tACS.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience