Importance: Negative symptoms have a detrimental impact on functional outcomes and quality of life in people with schizophrenia, and few therapeutic options are considered effective for this symptomatic dimension. Studies have suggested that noninvasive brain stimulation (NIBS) interventions may be effective in treating negative symptoms. However, the comparative efficacy of different NIBS protocols for relieving negative symptoms remains unclear.
Objective: To compare the efficacy and acceptability of different NIBS interventions for treating negative symptoms.
Data sources: The ClinicalKey, Cochrane CENTRAL, Embase, ProQuest, PubMed, ScienceDirect, ClinicalTrials.gov, and Web of Science electronic databases were systematically searched from inception through December 7, 2021.
Study selection: A frequentist model network meta-analysis was conducted to assess the pooled findings of trials that evaluated the efficacy of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), theta-burst stimulation, transcranial random noise stimulation, transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation, and transcranial direct current stimulation on negative symptoms in schizophrenia. Randomized clinical trials (RCTs) examining NIBS interventions for participants with schizophrenia were included.
Data extraction and synthesis: The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses (PRISMA) reporting guideline was followed. Data were independently extracted by multiple observers. The pair-wise meta-analytic procedures were conducted using a random-effects model.
Main outcomes and measures: The coprimary outcomes were changes in the severity of negative symptoms and acceptability (ie, dropout rates owing to any reason). Secondary outcomes were changes in positive and depressive symptoms.
Results: Forty-eight RCTs involving 2211 participants (mean [range] age, 38.7 [24.0-57.0] years; mean [range] proportion of female patients, 30.6% [0%-70.0%]) were included. Compared with sham control interventions, excitatory NIBS strategies (standardized mean difference [SMD]: high-definition transcranial random noise stimulation, -2.19 [95% CI, -3.36 to -1.02]; intermittent theta-burst stimulation, -1.32 [95% CI, -1.88 to -0.76]; anodal transcranial direct current stimulation, -1.28 [95% CI, -2.55 to -0.02]; high-frequency rTMS, -0.43 [95% CI, -0.68 to -0.18]; extreme high-frequency rTMS, -0.45 [95% CI, -0.79 to -0.12]) over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex with or without other inhibitory stimulation protocols in the contralateral regions of the brain were associated with significantly larger reductions in negative symptoms. Acceptability did not significantly differ between the groups.
Conclusions and relevance: In this network meta-analysis, excitatory NIBS protocols over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex were associated with significantly large improvements in the severity of negative symptoms. Because relatively few studies were available for inclusion, additional well-designed, large-scale RCTs are warranted.