A systematic review on the therapeutic effectiveness of non-invasive brain stimulation for the treatment of anxiety disorders

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2019 Jan:96:219-231. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.12.012. Epub 2018 Dec 10.


The interest in the use of non-invasive brain stimulation for enhancing neural functions and reducing symptoms in anxiety disorders is growing. Based on the DSM-V classification for anxiety disorders, we examined all available research using repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) for the treatment of specific phobias, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, and generalized anxiety disorder. A systematic literature search conducted in PubMed and Google Scholar databases provided 26 results: 12 sham-controlled studies and 15 not sham-controlled studies. With regard to the latter sub-group of studies, 9 were case reports, and 6 open label studies. Overall, our work provides preliminary evidence that both, excitatory stimulation of the left prefrontal cortex and inhibitory stimulation of the right prefrontal cortex can reduce symptom severity in anxiety disorders. The current results are discussed in the light of a model for the treatment for anxiety disorders via non-invasive brain stimulation, which is based on up-/downregulation mechanisms and might serve as guide for future systematic investigations in the field.

Keywords: Agoraphobia; Generalized anxiety disorder; Non-invasive brain stimulation; Panic disorder; Social anxiety disorder; Specific phobias; rTMS; tDCS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety Disorders / physiopathology
  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation*