Transcranial direct current stimulation shows promise for depression therapy

November 16, 2016

LAWRENCE -- Small amounts of electricity similar to the output of a common 9-volt battery could improve life for people living with major depression, the most common mood disorder.

A new study at the University of Kansas will investigate the potential of transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS, whereby a safe, low current of electricity is applied to the brain by placing electrodes on a person's scalp. The painless technique may be a useful as a therapy for depression, especially in conjunction with antidepressant medications.

"It's a technology that allows us to influence the chance that cells in the brain will fire using moderate amounts of electricity," said Evangelia Chrysikou, assistant professor of psychology.

Chrysikou recently earned a $70,000 grant from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation to study the potential of tDCS in people experiencing depression. She'll use proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy and functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure changes in brain chemistry and neural activity among 40 subjects receiving tDCS, half healthy and half experiencing major depressive disorder. Participants will be recruited from the KU Psychological Clinic on KU's Lawrence campus and the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

Chrysikou said that a number of smaller pilot studies have shown the promise of tDCS for patients experiencing major depression, but her research will push forward knowledge of how the treatment can be most effective.

"It's a promising technique," she said. "We want to increase understanding of how it works at the brain level. What's the mechanism that underlies these positive changes? If we understand the mechanism, we could boost the effects of medication with this intervention. For example, if some patients don't respond to antidepressants, we can combine them with non-invasive brain stimulation and potentially increase the likelihood that the drugs will work as intended."

According to Chrysikou, the study will offer a comprehensive examination of the effects of the technique at the level of brain chemistry and function.

"We're going to take participants in a healthy control group and patients diagnosed with depression, and we're going to apply the intervention while they're being scanned at the Hoglund Brain Imaging Center in Kansas City," she said. "We'll take pictures of how the brain changes before and after the intervention and when participants are trying to regulate their emotions during behavioral tasks."

Research participants will look at positive, negative and neutral images while their brain activity is measured prior to and concurrently with or following tDCS.

"The images come from very well-standardized database of images that are normalized and have been used in thousands of studies," Chrysikou said. "We present participants with positive, negative and neutral pictures, and we ask them to regulate their experience of each emotion. For example, negative images might be a picture of a funeral or a sad baby, and on the other side positive pictures could be of people being happy on the beach. We use positive and negative pictures because it has been shown that patients with depression have dampened emotional responses to stimuli regardless of emotional valence. We want to examine potential differences in emotion regulation before and during the intervention across these stimuli."

The KU researcher said tDCS is very different from the electroconvulsive therapy available to certain patients with major depressive disorder today, who do not respond to any other intervention. For instance, tDCS doesn't require anesthesia and involves substantially smaller amounts of electricity. In fact, Chrysikou said that tDCS is already self-administered at home for therapeutic purposes in other countries.

"This is different in the sense that the amount of electricity applied in surface of brain is extremely small," she said. "Seizures induced following tDCS have never been reported in the literature. One of the benefits of the approach is that it doesn't need to be applied exclusively in a medical setting. As long as people have met the inclusion criteria, such as no brain trauma or metal implants, it's a safe approach."

Chrysikou added that tDCS could even be controlled remotely, for people in remote or rural areas without access to nearby psychiatric facilities, thus increasing the broader effects of the intervention.

University of Kansas

Related Depression Articles from Brightsurf:

Children with social anxiety, maternal history of depression more likely to develop depression
Although researchers have known for decades that depression runs in families, new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York, suggests that children suffering from social anxiety may be at particular risk for depression in the future.

Depression and use of marijuana among US adults
This study examined the association of depression with cannabis use among US adults and the trends for this association from 2005 to 2016.

Maternal depression increases odds of depression in offspring, study shows
Depression in mothers during and after pregnancy increased the odds of depression in offspring during adolescence and adulthood by 70%.

Targeting depression: Researchers ID symptom-specific targets for treatment of depression
For the first time, physician-scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have identified two clusters of depressive symptoms that responded to two distinct neuroanatomical treatment targets in patients who underwent transcranial magnetic brain stimulation (TMS) for treatment of depression.

A biological mechanism for depression
Researchers report that in depressed individuals there are increased amounts of an unmodified structural protein, called tubulin, in lipid rafts compared with non-depressed individuals.

Depression in adults who are overweight or obese
In an analysis of primary care records of 519,513 UK adults who were overweight or obese between 2000-2016 and followed up until 2019, the incidence of new cases of depression was 92 per 10,000 people per year.

Why stress doesn't always cause depression
Rats susceptible to anhedonia, a core symptom of depression, possess more serotonin neurons after being exposed to chronic stress, but the effect can be reversed through amygdala activation, according to new research in JNeurosci.

Which comes first: Smartphone dependency or depression?
New research suggests a person's reliance on his or her smartphone predicts greater loneliness and depressive symptoms, as opposed to the other way around.

Depression breakthrough
Major depressive disorder -- referred to colloquially as the 'black dog' -- has been identified as a genetic cause for 20 distinct diseases, providing vital information to help detect and manage high rates of physical illnesses in people diagnosed with depression.

CPAP provides relief from depression
Researchers have found that continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can improve depression symptoms in patients suffering from cardiovascular diseases.

Read More: Depression News and Depression Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to