Transcranial direct current stimulation: A novel approach in the treatment of vascular depression

Raffaella Zanardi, Sara Poletti, Dario Prestifilippo, Francesco Attanasio, Barbara Barbini, Cristina Colombo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Despite the impact of depression in terms of personal suffering and socioeconomic burden, most currently available treatment options are often ineffective. A particularly difficult-to-treat depressive disorder characteristic of the elderly is vascular depression, a late-life depressive syndrome related to a variety of potential vascular mechanisms. Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS), a non-invasive and effective somatic approach to depression, also showed positive effects on cognitive deficits. Aim: We performed a double-blind randomized study to investigate the efficacy of tDCS as augmentation strategy to sertraline in the treatment of vascular depression, hypothesizing a positive effect in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functions. Methods: We enrolled 93 inpatients over 60 years of age with a diagnosis of vascular depression. Depressive symptoms were weekly assessed (T0, T1, T2) with the 21-items Hamilton depression rating scale (HDRS). Cognitive functioning was evaluated with the Milan Overall Dementia Assessment (MODA) at baseline and after the treatment protocol. All patients were randomly assigned into three groups, Group I: one tDCS stimulation per day, Group II: two tDCS stimulations per day, Sham group: one sham tDCS stimulation per day. Stimulation was performed for 10 consecutive working days. Results: A significant interaction time∗treatment was observed on HDRS scores (F = 14, p < 0.001). All groups improved at T1 but whereas Group II significantly differed from the Sham group (p < 0.001) we observed no difference between Sham and Group I. At T2 all groups improved but Group II showed the greater improvement (vs. Sham p < 0.001; vs. Group I p < 0.001) and the Sham group the smallest (vs. Group I p = 0.005). A significant interaction time∗treatment was also observed on MODA scores (F = 3.31, p = 0.04). Only subjects treated with tDCS improved at T2 (Group I: p < 0.001; Group II: p = 0.007). However, no difference between Group I and II was shown. Conclusion: tDCS as augmentation treatment of an adequate pharmacotherapy is a potential strategy in the management of vascular depression, a disease known to be often unresponsive to antidepressants only. Non-invasiveness, the absence of severe side effects and the possibility of administering it to outpatients at an affordable price make tDCS an important tool in clinical practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1559-1565
Number of pages7
JournalBrain Stimulation
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2020


  • Antidepressant
  • Cognitive functions
  • tDCS
  • Vascular depression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Neurology


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