Brain stimulation using electromagnetic sources: theoretical aspects

  • Heller L
  • van Hulsteyn D
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We prove that, at the frequencies generally proposed for extracranial stimulation of the brain, it is not possible, using any superposition of external current sources, to produce a three-dimensional local maximum of the electric field strength inside the brain. The maximum always occurs on a boundary where the conductivity jumps in value. Nevertheless, it may be possible to achieve greater two-dimensional focusing and shaping of the electric field than is currently available. Towards this goal we have used the reciprocity theorem to present a uniform treatment of the electric field inside a conducting medium produced by a variety of sources: an external magnetic dipole (current loop), an external electric dipole (linear antenna), and surface and depth electrodes. This formulation makes use of the lead fields from magneto- and electroencephalography. For the special case of a system with spherically symmetric conductivity, we derive a simple analytic formula for the electric field due to an external magnetic dipole. This formula is independent of the conductivity profile and therefore embraces spherical models with any number of shells. This explains the "insensitivity" to the skull's conductivity that has been described in numerical studies. We also present analytic formulas for the electric field due to an electric dipole, and also surface and depth electrodes, for the case of a sphere of constant conductivity.

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  • L. Heller

  • D.B. B. van Hulsteyn

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