A systematic review of the clinical efficacy of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) in psychiatric disorders

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Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a non-invasive neuromodulation technique, which can be used to selectively disrupt patterns of neural activity that are associated with symptoms of mental illness. tDCS has been implemented in numerous therapeutic trials across a range of patient populations, with a rapidly increasing number of studies being published each year. This systematic review aimed to evaluate the efficacy of tDCS in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. Four electronic databases were searched from inception until December 2015 by two independent reviewers, and 66 eligible studies were identified. Depression was the most extensively researched condition, followed by schizophrenia and substance use disorders. Data on obsessive compulsive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, and anorexia nervosa were also obtained. The quality of included studies was appraised using a standardised assessment framework, which yielded a median score corresponding to “weak” on the three-point scale. This improved to “moderate” when case reports/series were excluded from the analysis. Overall, data suggested that tDCS interventions comprising multiple sessions can ameliorate symptoms of several major psychiatric disorders, both acutely and in the long-term. Nevertheless, the tDCS field is still in its infancy, and several methodological and ethical issues must be addressed before clinical efficacy can truly be determined. Studies probing the mechanisms of action of tDCS and those facilitating the definition of optimised stimulation protocols are warranted. Furthermore, evidence from large-scale, multi-centre randomised controlled trials is required if the transition of this therapy from the laboratory to the clinic is to be considered.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-86
JournalJournal of psychiatric research
Early online date22 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016


  • Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS)
  • Neuromodulation
  • Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC)


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