Cognitive dysfunction treatment remains an unmet clinical need in major depressive disorder (MDD). Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) may improve cognitive symptoms in MDD. Our aim was to investigate the cognitive effects of tDCS in the Sertraline vs. Electric Current Therapy for Treating Depression Clinical Study (SELECT-TDCS). The authors also explored whether tDCS could have mood-independent cognitive effects. One hundred twenty MDD patients aged from 18 to 65 years received 12 sessions of active/sham tDCS (2mA for 30min) and real/placebo 50mg/d sertraline over 6 weeks in a factorial trial. Aditionally they analyzed whether changes in performance of neuropsychological tests (Trail Making, Digit Span, Stroop Task, Mini-Mental Status Exam and Montreal Cognitive Assessment) occurred over time, according to treatment group and depression improvement. Exploratory analyses were carried out to verify the influence of clinical and demographic variables on the outcomes. Cognitive improvement was showed in most tests used, although they occurred regardless of intervention type and depression improvement. Further exploratory analyses revealed that clinical response and education level could have mediated pro-cognitive tDCS effects on some of the tests used.
The authors found no evidence of beneficial or deleterious cognitive effects of tDCS as a treatment for depression. They discussed clinical trial design considerations for further tDCS studies assessing cognitive effects, including sample and outcomes considerations.