Psychiatry and Clinical Psychopharmacology
Systematic Review

Effects of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation on Cognitive Deficits in Depression: A Systematic Review


Department of Psychiatry, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada


Scott Health Sciences Library, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada

Psychiatry and Clinical Psychopharmacology 2023; 33: 330-343
DOI: 10.5152/pcp.2023.22583
Read: 1078 Downloads: 435 Published: 06 July 2023

Background: Major depressive disorder is the leading cause of mental health-related burden globally and up to one-third of major depressive disorder patients never achieve remission. Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation is a non-invasive intervention used to treat individuals diagnosed with major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder. Since the last transcranial direct current stimulation review specifically focusing on cognitive symptoms in major depressive disorder, twice as many papers have been published.

Methods: A systematic review was conducted with 5 electronic databases from database inception until March 21, 2022. Randomized controlled trials with at least 1 arm evaluating transcranial direct current stimulation in adults (diagnosed with major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or International Classification of Diseases criteria) aged 18 or older were included. Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines were adopted.

Results: A total of 972 participants were included across 14 studies (60.5% female; mean age of 47.0 years [SD=16.8]). Nine studies focused on participants with major depressive disorder and all studies used the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to diagnose the participants. Seven out of the 14 studies showed significant improvements in at least 1 cognitive outcome measure in the active transcranial direct current stimulation group compared to the sham group. Several cognitive measures were used across studies, and 12 of the 14 studies reported mild-to-moderate side effects from treatment.

Conclusion: Current transcranial direct current stimulation literature has shown limited evidence for the treatment of cognitive impairments in major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder. Future research that applies machine learning algorithms may enable us to distinguish responders from nonresponders, increasing clinical benefits of transcranial direct current stimulation.

Cite this article as: Jin J, Al-Shamali H, McWeeny R, et al. Effects of transcranial direct current stimulation on cognitive deficits in depression: A systematic review. Psychiatry Clin Psychopharmacol. 2023;33(4):330-343.

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