Cognitive effects of transcranial direct current stimulation treatment in patients with major depressive disorder: An individual patient data meta-analysis of randomised, sham-controlled trials

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2018 Jul;90:137-145. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.04.008. Epub 2018 Apr 13.


Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has emerged as a promising new treatment for major depression. While recent randomised, sham-controlled studies found tDCS to have antidepressant effects, it remains to be determined whether a tDCS treatment course may also enhance cognitive function independent of mood effects in depressed patients. This systematic review and individual patient data (IPD) meta-analysis examined cognitive outcomes from randomised, sham-controlled trials of tDCS treatment for major depression. Seven randomised, sham-controlled trials (n = 478 participants, 260 in active and 218 in sham) of tDCS for major depression were included. Results showed no cognitive enhancement after active tDCS compared to sham for the 12 cognitive outcomes investigated. Active relative to sham tDCS treatment was associated with reduced performance gains on a measure of processing speed (β = -0.33, 95% CI -0.58; -0.08, p = 0.011). Active tDCS treatment for depression did not show cognitive benefits independent of mood effects. Rather, tDCS treatment relative to sham stimulation for major depression may instead be associated with a reduced practice effect for processing speed.

Keywords: Bipolar; Cognition; Depression; Transcranial direct current stimulation; Treatment.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior / physiology
  • Clinical Trials as Topic*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Depression / therapy*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation* / methods