Based on previous studies showing that transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), a non-invasive brain stimulation technique that employs weak, direct currents to induce cortical-excitability changes, might be useful for working memory (WM) enhancement in healthy subjects and also in treating depressive symptoms, our aim was to evaluate whether tDCS could acutely enhance WM in depressed patients. Twenty-eight age- and gender-matched, antidepressant-free depressed subjects received a single-session of active/sham tDCS in a randomized, double-blind, parallel design. The anode was positioned over the left and the cathode over the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The n-back task was used for assessing WM and it was performed immediately before and 15min after tDCS onset. We found that active vs. sham tDCS led to an increase in the rate of correct responses. We also used signal detection theory analyses to show that active tDCS increased both discriminability, i.e., the ability to discriminate signal (correct responses) from noise (false alarms), and response criterion, indicating a lower threshold to yield responses. All effect sizes were large. In other words, one session of tDCS acutely enhanced WM in depressed subjects, suggesting that tDCS can improve "cold" (non affective-loaded) working memory processes in MDD. Based on these findings, we discuss the effects of tDCS on WM enhancement in depression. We also suggest that the n-back task could be used as a biomarker in future tDCS studies investigating prefrontal activity in healthy and depressed samples.
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