Effects of tDCS on autonomic responses to stress

Effects of prefrontal transcranial direct current stimulation on autonomic and neuroendocrine responses to psychosocial stress in healthy humans.

Prolonged or repeated activation of the stress response can have negative psychological and physical consequences. The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is thought to exert an inhibitory influence on the activity of autonomic and neuroendocrine stress response systems. In this study, we further investigated this hypothesis by increasing PFC excitability using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). Healthy male participants were randomized to receive either anodal (excitatory) tDCS (n = 15) or sham stimulation (n = 15) over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) immediately before and during the exposure to a psychosocial stress test. Autonomic (heart rate (HR) and its variability) and neuroendocrine (salivary cortisol) parameters were assessed. One single session of excitatory tDCS over the left DLPFC (i) reduced HR and favored a larger vagal prevalence prior to stress exposure, (ii) moderated stress-induced HR acceleration and sympathetic activation/vagal withdrawal, but (iii) had no effect on stress-induced cortisol release. However, anodal tDCS over the left DLPFC prevented stress-induced changes in the cortisol awakening response. Finally, participants receiving excitatory tDCS reported a reduction in their levels of state anxiety upon completion of the psychosocial stress test. In conclusion, this study provides first insights into the efficacy of one single session of excitatory tDCS over the left DLPFC in attenuating autonomic and neuroendocrine effects of psychosocial stress exposure. These findings might be indicative of the important role of the left DLPFC, which is a cortical target for noninvasive brain stimulation treatment of depression, for successful coping with stressful stimuli.

PMID: 31177885 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Stress. 2020 01;23(1):26-36

Authors: Carnevali L, Pattini E, Sgoifo A, Ottaviani C




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