Neuromodulation targeted to the prefrontal cortex induces changes in energy intake and weight loss in obesity

Obesity (Silver Spring). 2015 Nov;23(11):2149-56. doi: 10.1002/oby.21313.


Objective: Obesity is associated with decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex. Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) modifies cortical excitability and may facilitate improved control of eating. The energy intake (EI) and body weight in subjects who received cathodal versus sham (study 1) and subsequent anodal versus sham (study 2) tDCS aimed at the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (LDLPFC) were measured.

Methods: Nine (3m, 6f) healthy volunteers with obesity (94 ± 15 kg [M ± SD]; 42 ± 8 y) were admitted as inpatients for 9 days to participate in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled crossover experiment. Study 1: following 5 days of a weight-maintaining diet, participants received cathodal or sham tDCS (2 mA, 40 min) on three consecutive mornings and then ate ad libitum from a computerized vending machine, which recorded EI. Weight was measured daily. Study 2: participants repeated the study, maintaining original assignment to active (this time anodal) and sham.

Results: Participants tended to consume fewer kilocalories per day (P = 0.07), significantly fewer kilocalories from soda (P = 0.02) and fat (P = 0.03), and had a greater % weight loss (P = 0.009) during anodal versus cathodal tDCS.

Conclusions: The results indicated a role for the LDLPFC in obesity and food intake. This proof of concept study suggested, for the first time, the potential application of anodal tDCS to facilitate weight loss.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Eating / physiology
  • Energy Intake / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / therapy*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation / adverse effects
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation / methods*
  • Weight Loss* / physiology
  • Young Adult