Background: Anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) of the prefrontal cortex has been proposed as therapeutic intervention in major depression. According to clinical needs, this study addresses the question whether tDCS is effective in treatment resistant major depressive episodes.
Methods: Twenty-two patients with a major depressive episode were randomly assigned to a cross-over protocol comparing tDCS and placebo stimulation add-on to a stable antidepressant medication. The parameters of active tDCS were: 1 or 2 mA for 20 minutes/day, anode over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, cathode over the contralateral supraorbital region. Active and placebo tDCS was applied for 2 weeks using indistinguishable DC stimulators. Patients, raters, and operators were blinded to treatment conditions.
Results: There was no significant difference in depression scores after 2 weeks of real compared with 2 weeks of sham tDCS. Scores on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale were reduced from baseline by 14.7% for active tDCS and 10% for placebo tDCS. In contrast, subjective mood ratings showed an increase in positive emotions after real tDCS compared with sham tDCS.
Conclusions: Anodal tDCS, applied for 2 weeks, was not superior to placebo treatment in patients with treatment resistant depression. However, secondary outcome measures are pointing to a positive effect of tDCS on emotions. Therefore, modified and improved tDCS protocols should be carried out in controlled pilot trials to develop tDCS towards an efficacious antidepressant intervention in therapy-resistant depression.
Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.