Clinical utility of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) for treating major depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized, double-blind and sham-controlled trials

J Psychiatr Res. 2013 Jan;47(1):1-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2012.09.025. Epub 2012 Oct 22.


Objective: tDCS is a promising novel therapeutic intervention for major depression (MD). However, clinical trials to date have reported conflicting results concerning its efficacy, which likely resulted from low statistical power. Thus, we carried out a systematic review and meta-analysis on randomized, double-blind and controlled trials of tDCS in MD with a focus on clinically relevant outcomes, namely response and remission rates.

Method: We searched the literature for English language randomized, double-blind and sham-controlled trials (RCTs) on tDCS for treating MD from 1998 through July 2012 using MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials and SCOPUS. We also consulted the Web of Science's Citations Index Expanded for the selected RCTs up to July 2012. The main outcome measures were response and remission rates. We used a random-effects model and Odds Ratios (OR).

Results: Data were obtained from 6 RCTs that included a total of 200 subjects with MD. After an average of 10.8 ± 3.76 tDCS sessions, no significant difference was found between active and sham tDCS in terms of both response (23.3% [24/103] vs. 12.4% [12/97], respectively; OR = 1.97; 95% CI = 0.85-4.57; p = 0.11) and remission (12.2% [12/98] vs. 5.4% [5/92], respectively; OR = 2.13; 95% CI = 0.64-7.06; p = 0.22). Also, no differences between mean baseline depression scores and dropout rates in the active and sham tDCS groups were found. Furthermore, sensitivity analyses excluding RCTs that involved less than 10 treatment sessions or stimulus intensity of less than 2 mA did not alter the findings. However, tDCS used as monotherapy was associated with higher response rates when compared to sham tDCS (p = 0.043). Finally, the risk of publication bias in this meta-analysis was found to be low.

Conclusions: The clinical utility of tDCS as a treatment for MD remains unclear when clinically relevant outcomes such as response and remission rates are considered. Future studies should include larger and more representative samples, investigate how tDCS compares to other therapeutic neuromodulation techniques, as well as identify optimal stimulation parameters.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / methods*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / instrumentation
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome