Transcranial electric stimulation and treatment response in depression

September 1, 2017

Katherine Narr, head of the Depression Grand Challenge (DGC) human neuroimaging studies and Associate Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine (DGSOM), recently received new funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to determine how transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), a non-invasive neuromodulation technique, might change the brain to improve symptoms of depression. This study complements other projects conducted by Dr. Narr and her colleagues, including Drs. Randall Espinoza and Eliza Congdon from the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences (DGSOM), that are focused on identifying biomarkers of fast acting treatment response in major depression.

Though many treatments are available for major depression, standard first-line therapies are only moderately successful. This project works to understand how brain stimulation with tDCS modulates specific parts of the brain using low intensity electrical currents, and if such changes are linked with therapeutic benefits. The low intensity current is delivered via electrodes placed on the head and presents very minimal risk to patients. In this study, the researchers will use novel Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) methods to measure how the brain is engaged during tDCS. Patients with major depression will then receive several treatment sessions of tDCS and the researchers will measure corresponding changes in the brain and depression symptoms before and after the treatment trial. Their approach starts with establishing whether tDCS engages mood regulating neural circuits in patients with major depression. The team will also determine optimal ways to utilize different aspects of the technology and measure the distribution of the tDCS electrical current at different levels of intensity.

Ultimately the team aspires to understand how tDCS influences brain regional physiology, function and contributes to reductions of depressive symptoms. These findings will inform the determination of whether tDCS presents a viable antidepressant therapy for depression, which could provide rapidly acting personalized treatments for patients with major depression in the future.

This article was written by UCLA Student/Depression Grand Challenge Student Worker, Emilia Szmyrgala.