Transcranial Pulsed-Current Stimulation versus Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation in Patients with Disorders of Consciousness: A Pilot, Sham-Controlled Cross-Over Double-Blind Study

Brain Sci. 2022 Mar 24;12(4):429. doi: 10.3390/brainsci12040429.


Transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) over the prefrontal cortex can improve signs of consciousness in patients in a minimally conscious state. Transcranial pulsed-current stimulation (tPCS) over the mastoids can modulate brain activity and connectivity in healthy controls. This study investigated the feasibility of tPCS as a therapeutic tool in patients with disorders of consciousness (DoC) and compared its neurophysiological and behavioral effects with prefrontal tDCS. This pilot study was a randomized, double-blind sham-controlled clinical trial with three sessions: bi-mastoid tPCS, prefrontal tDCS, and sham. Electroencephalography (EEG) and behavioral assessments were collected before and after each stimulation session. Post minus pre differences were compared using Kruskal-Wallis and Wilcoxon signed-rank tests. Twelve patients with DoC were included in the study (eight females, four traumatic brain injury, 50.3 ± 14 y.o., 8.8 ± 10.5 months post-injury). We did not observe any side-effects following tPCS, nor tDCS, and confirmed their feasibility and safety. We did not find a significant effect of the stimulation on EEG nor behavioral outcomes for tPCS. However, consistent with prior findings, our exploratory analyses suggest that tDCS induces behavioral improvements and an increase in theta frontal functional connectivity.

Keywords: coma; electrophysiology; minimally conscious state; neuromodulation; non-invasive brain stimulation; randomized controlled trial.