Human Studies of Transcranial Ultrasound neuromodulation: A systematic review of effectiveness and safety

Brain Stimul. 2022 May-Jun;15(3):737-746. doi: 10.1016/j.brs.2022.05.002. Epub 2022 May 6.


Background: Transcranial ultrasound stimulation (TUS) is gaining traction as a safe and non-invasive technique in human studies. There has been a rapid increase in TUS human studies in recent years, with more than half of studies to date published after 2020. This rapid growth in the relevant body of literature necessitates comprehensive reviews to update clinicians and researchers.

Objective: The aim of this work is to review human studies with an emphasis on TUS devices, sonication parameters, outcome measures, results, and adverse effects, as well as highlight future directions of investigation.

Methods: A systematic review was conducted by searching the Web of Science and PubMed databases on January 12, 2022. Human studies of TUS were included.

Results: A total of 35 studies were identified using focused/unfocused ultrasound devices. A total of 677 subjects belonging to diverse cohorts (i.e., healthy, chronic pain, dementia, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, depression) were enrolled. The stimulation effects vary in a sonication parameter-dependant fashion. Clinical, neurophysiological, radiological and histological outcome measures were assessed. No severe adverse effects were reported in any of the studies surveyed. Mild symptoms were observed in 3.4% (14/425) of the subjects, including headache, mood deterioration, scalp heating, cognitive problems, neck pain, muscle twitches, anxiety, sleepiness and pruritis.

Conclusions: Although increasingly being used, TUS is still in its early phases. TUS can change short-term brain excitability and connectivity, induce long-term plasticity, and modulate behavior. New techniques should be used to further elucidate its underlying mechanisms and identify its application in novel populations.

Keywords: Brain stimulation; Clinical trials; Complication; Focused ultrasound; Outcome measures; Sonication parameters.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Brain / physiology
  • Chronic Pain*
  • Epilepsy*
  • Humans
  • Ultrasonography / methods