Effects of multisession cathodal transcranial direct current stimulation with cognitive training on sociocognitive functioning and brain dynamics in autism: A double-blind, sham-controlled, randomized EEG study

Melody M.Y. Chan, Coco X.T. Choi, Tom C.W. Tsoi, Caroline K.S. Shea, Klaire W.K. Yiu, Yvonne M.Y. Han (Corresponding Author)

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

Abstract

Background: Few treatment options are available for targeting core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The development of treatments that target common neural circuit dysfunctions caused by known genetic defects, namely, disruption of the excitation/inhibition (E/I) balance, is promising. Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is capable of modulating the E/I balance in healthy individuals, yet its clinical and neurobiological effects in ASD remain elusive. Objective: This double-blind, randomized, sham-controlled trial investigated the effects of multisession cathodal prefrontal tDCS coupled with online cognitive remediation on social functioning, information processing efficiency and the E/I balance in ASD patients aged 14–21 years. Methods: Sixty individuals were randomly assigned to receive either active or sham tDCS (10 sessions in total, 20 min/session, stimulation intensity: 1.5 mA, cathode: F3, anode: Fp2, size of electrodes: 25 cm2) combined with 20 min of online cognitive remediation. Social functioning, information processing efficiency during cognitive tasks, and theta- and gamma-band E/I balance were measured one day before and after the treatment. Results: Compared to sham tDCS, active cathodal tDCS was effective in enhancing overall social functioning [F(1, 58) = 6.79, p = .012, ηp2 = 0.105, 90% CI: (0.013, 0.234)] and information processing efficiency during cognitive tasks [F(1, 58) = 10.07, p = .002, ηp2 = 0.148, 90% CI: (0.034, 0.284)] in these individuals. Electroencephalography data showed that this cathodal tDCS protocol was effective in reducing the theta-band E/I ratio of the cortical midline structures [F(1, 58) = 4.65, p = .035, ηp2 = 0.074, 90% CI: (0.010, 0.150)] and that this reduction significantly predicted information processing efficiency enhancement (b = −2.546, 95% BCa CI: [-4.979, −0.113], p = .041). Conclusion: Our results support the use of multisession cathodal tDCS over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex combined with online cognitive remediation for reducing the elevated theta-band E/I ratio in sociocognitive information processing circuits in ASD patients, resulting in more adaptive regulation of global brain dynamics that is associated with enhanced information processing efficiency after the intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1604-1616
Number of pages13
JournalBrain Stimulation
Volume16
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2023

Keywords

  • Autism
  • Cognition
  • EEG
  • Excitation/inhibition
  • RCT
  • tDCS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Biophysics
  • Clinical Neurology

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