Neurophysiological and behavioral effects of multisession prefrontal tDCS and concurrent cognitive remediation training in patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD): A double-blind, randomized controlled fNIRS study

Yvonne M.Y. Han (Corresponding Author), Melody M.Y. Chan, Caroline K.S. Shea, Oscar Long hin Lai, Karthikeyan Krishnamurthy, Mei chun Cheung, Agnes S. Chan

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


Background: The clinical effects and neurophysiological mechanisms of prefrontal tDCS and concurrent cognitive remediation training in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) remain unclear. Objective: This two-armed, double-blind, randomized, sham-controlled trial aimed to investigate the beneficial effects of tDCS combined with concurrent cognitive remediation training on adolescents and young adults with ASD. Methods: Participants were randomly assigned to either active or sham tDCS groups and received 1.5 mA prefrontal tDCS with left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) cathode placement and right supraorbital region anode placement for 20 minutes over two consecutive weeks. tDCS was delivered concurrently with a computerized cognitive remediation training program. Social functioning and its underlying cognitive processes, as well as prefrontal resting-state functional connectivity (rsFC), were measured. Results: The results from 41 participants indicated that multisession prefrontal tDCS, compared to sham tDCS, significantly enhanced the social functioning of ASD individuals [F(1,39) = 4.75, p =.035, ηp2 = 0.11]. This improvement was associated with enhanced emotion recognition [F(1,39) = 8.34, p =.006, ηp2 = 0.18] and cognitive flexibility [F(1,39) = 4.91, p =.033, ηp2 = 0.11]. Specifically, this tDCS protocol optimized information processing efficiency [F(1,39) = 4.43, p =.042, ηp2 = 0.10], and the optimization showed a trend to be associated with enhanced rsFC in the right medial prefrontal cortex (ρ = 0.339, pFDR =.083). Conclusion: Multisession tDCS with left dlPFC cathode placement and right supraorbital region anode placement paired with concurrent cognitive remediation training promoted social functioning in individuals with ASD. This appeared to be associated with the enhancement of the functional connectivity of the right medial PFC, a major hub for flexible social information processing, allowing these individuals to process information more efficiently in response to different social situations. Trial registration: (ID: NCT03814083)

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)414-425
Number of pages12
JournalBrain Stimulation
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2022


  • Autism
  • Cognitive
  • fNIRS
  • RCT
  • Social
  • tDCS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biophysics
  • Clinical Neurology

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