Treating Post-traumatic Stress Disorder with Neuromodulation Therapies: Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation, and Deep Brain Stimulation

Abstract

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a prevalent and debilitating illness. While standard treatment with pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy may be effective, approximately 20 to 30% of patients remain symptomatic. These individuals experience depression, anxiety, and elevated rates of suicide. For treatment-resistant patients, there is a growing interest in the use of neuromodulation therapies, including transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), and deep brain stimulation (DBS). We conducted a systematic review on the use of neuromodulation strategies for PTSD and pooled 13 randomized clinical trials (RCTs), 11 case series, and 6 case reports for analysis. Overall, most studies reported favorable outcomes in alleviating both PTSD and depressive symptoms. Although several RCTs described significant differences when active and sham stimulations were compared, others found marginal or nonsignificant differences between groups. Also positive were studies comparing PTSD symptoms before and after treatment. The side effect profile with all 3 modalities was found to be low, with mostly mild adverse events being reported. Despite these encouraging data, several aspects remain unknown. Given that PTSD is a highly heterogeneous condition that can be accompanied by distinct psychiatric diagnoses, defining a unique treatment for this patient population can be quite challenging. There has also been considerable variation across trials regarding stimulation parameters, symptomatic response, and the role of adjunctive psychotherapy. Future studies are needed to address these issues.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported in part with funds from the DANA Foundation, Veterans Affairs Canada, and the Harquail Centre for Neuromodulation. The authors declare no conflict of interest related to this work. CH was part of an unrelated advisory board for Medtronic.

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Gouveia, F.V., Davidson, B., Meng, Y. et al. Treating Post-traumatic Stress Disorder with Neuromodulation Therapies: Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation, and Deep Brain Stimulation. Neurotherapeutics (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13311-020-00871-0

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Key Words

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • neuromodulation
  • transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)
  • transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS)
  • deep brain stimulation (DBS)