Recent clinical trials of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) in depression have shown contrasting results. Consequently, we used in-vivo neuroimaging to confirm targeting and modulation of depression-relevant neural circuitry by tDCS. Depressed participants (N = 66, Baseline Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS) 17-item scores ≥14 and <24) were randomized into Active/Sham and High-definition (HD)/Conventional (Conv) tDCS groups using a double-blind, parallel design, and received tDCS individually targeted at the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). In accordance with Ampere’s Law, tDCS currents were hypothesized to induce magnetic fields at the stimulation-target, measured in real-time using dual-echo echo-planar-imaging (DE-EPI) MRI. Additionally, the tDCS treatment trial (consisting of 12 daily 20-min sessions) was hypothesized to induce cerebral blood flow (CBF) changes post-treatment at the DLPFC target and in the reciprocally connected anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), measured using pseudo-continuous arterial spin labeling (pCASL) MRI. Significant tDCS current-induced magnetic fields were observed at the left DLPFC target for both active stimulation montages (Brodmann’s area (BA) 46: pHD = 0.048, Cohen’s dHD = 0.73; pConv = 0.018, dConv = 0.86; BA 9: pHD = 0.011, dHD = 0.92; pConv = 0.022, dConv = 0.83). Significant longitudinal CBF increases were observed (a) at the left DLPFC stimulation-target for both active montages (pHD = 3.5E−3, dHD = 0.98; pConv = 2.8E−3, dConv = 1.08), and (b) at ACC for the HD-montage only (pHD = 2.4E−3, dHD = 1.06; pConv = 0.075, dConv = 0.64). These results confirm that tDCS-treatment (a) engages the stimulation-target, and (b) modulates depression-relevant neural circuitry in depressed participants, with stronger network-modulations induced by the HD-montage. Although not primary outcomes, active HD-tDCS showed significant improvements of anhedonia relative to sham, though HDRS scores did not differ significantly between montages post-treatment.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Biological Psychiatry
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience