Pre-treatment attentional processing speed and antidepressant response to transcranial direct current stimulation: Results from an international randomized controlled trial

Donel M. Martin, Shawn M. McClintock, Scott T. Aaronson, Angelo Alonzo, Mustafa M. Husain, Sarah H. Lisanby, William M. McDonald, Adith Mohan, Stevan Nikolin, John O'Reardon, Cynthia Shannon Weickert, Colleen K. Loo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has promising antidepressant effects, however, clinical trials have shown variable efficacy. Pre-treatment neurocognitive functioning has previously been identified as an inter-individual predictor of tDCS antidepressant efficacy. Objective: In this international multicentre, sham-controlled study, we investigated this relationship while also assessing the influence of clinical and genotype (BDNF Val66Met and COMT Val158Met polymorphisms) factors as predictors of response to active tDCS. Methods: The study was a triple-masked, parallel, randomized, controlled design across 6 international academic medical centers. Participants were randomized to active (2.5 mA) or sham (34 μA) tDCS for 30 min each session for 20 sessions. The anode was centered over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex at F3 (10/20 EEG system) and the cathode over the lateral right frontal area at F8. Results: Better pre-treatment attentional processing speed on the Ruff 2 & 7 Selective Attention Test (Total Speed: β = 0.25, p <.05) and concurrent antidepressant medication use (β = 0.31, p <.05) predicted antidepressant efficacy with active tDCS. Genotype differences in the BDNF Val66Metand COMT Val158Met polymorphisms were not associated with antidepressant effects. Secondary analyses revealed that only participants in the highest performing Ruff 2 & 7 Total Speed group at pre-treatment in both active and sham tDCS conditions showed significantly greater antidepressant response compared to those with lower performance at both the 2 and 4 week treatment time points (p <.05). Conclusions: These results suggest that high pre-treatment attentional processing speed may be relevant for identifying participants more likely to show better tDCS antidepressant response to both high (2.5 mA) and very low (34 μA) current intensity stimulation. Clinical trials registration:, NCT01562184.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1282-1290
Number of pages9
JournalBrain Stimulation
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2018



  • Cognition
  • Depression
  • Genotype
  • Response
  • Transcranial direct current stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biophysics
  • Clinical Neurology

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