Beneficial effects of anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) on spatial working memory in patients with schizophrenia.Eur Neuropsychopharmacol 2018; 28(12):1339-1350EN
Schizophrenia is a severe and often detrimental psychiatric disorder. The individual patients' level of functioning is essentially determined by cognitive, particularly working memory (WM), deficits that are critically linked to dysfunctional activity of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC). Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) can transiently modulate activity of the dlPFC and remote areas and has been shown to improve WM functions. It may therefore provide a new, targeted treatment option. For this aim, the present study investigated the effect of anodal tDCS of different intensities on spatial WM in patients with schizophrenia. In two experiments, 32 patients performed a spatial n-back task with increasing WM load (1-, 2-, and 3-back) at baseline and in two sessions with anodal or sham tDCS (EXP I [n = 16]: 1 mA; EXP II [n = 16]: 2 mA) to the right dlPFC (cathode: left m. deltoideus). With 1 mA anodal tDCS, no effect on WM performance could be detected. However, 2 mA anodal tDCS increased accuracy (measured by d') of the task with the highest WM load (3-back). This effect was larger in patients with a lower level of general neurocognitive functioning. These results demonstrate a beneficial effect of 2 mA anodal tDCS on deficient WM accuracy in patients with schizophrenia particularly under challenging conditions and in subjects with higher cognitive impairments. This data will inform future clinical trials on tDCS-enhanced cognitive training to improve treatment of schizophrenia.