January 10, 2022
ADHD is hypothesized to arise from 1) poor inhibitory control resulting from impaired executive functions which are associated with reduced activation in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and increased activation of some subcortical regions; and 2)hyperarousal to environmental stimuli, hampering the ability of the executive functioning system, particularly the medial frontal cortex, orbital and ventromedial prefrontal areas, and subcortical regions such as the caudate nucleus, amygdala, nucleus accumbens, and thalamus, to control the respective stimuli.
These brain anomalies, rendered visible through magnetic resonance imaging, have led researchers to try new means of treatment to directly address the deficits. Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a non-invasive brain stimulation technique that uses a weak electrical current to stimulate specific regions of the brain.
A team of researchers from Europe and ran performed a systematic search of the literature and identified fourteen studies exploring the safety and efficacy of tDCS. Three of these studies examined the effects on ADHD symptoms. They found a large effect size for the inattention subscale and a medium effect size for the hyperactivity/impulsivity. Yet, as the authors cautioned, "a definite conclusion concerning the clinical efficacy of tDCS based on the results of these three studies is not possible."
The remaining studies investigated the effects on specific neuropsychological and cognitive deficits in ADHD:
The fact that heterogeneity in the methodology of these studies made meta-analysis impossible means these results, while promising, cannot be seen as in any way definitive.
Ten studies examined childhood ADHD. Three found no adverse effects either during or after tDCS. One study reported a feeling of "shock" in a few patients during tDCS. Several more reported skin tingling and itching during tDCS. Several also reported mild headaches.
The four studies of adults with ADHD reported no major adverse events. One study reported a single incident of acute mood change, sadness, diminished motivation, and tension five hours after stimulation. Another reported mild instances of skin tingling and burning sensations.
To address side effects such as tingling and itching, the authors suggested reducing the intensity of the electrical current and increasing the duration. They also suggested placing electrodes at least 6 cm apart to reduce current shunting through the ski. For children, they recommended the use of smaller electrodes for better focus in smaller brains.
The authors concluded, "The findings of this systematic review suggest at least a partial improvement of symptoms and cognitive deficits in ADHD by tDCS. They further suggest that stimulation parameters such as polarity and site are relevant to the efficacy of tDCS in ADHD. Compared to cathodal stimulation, Anodal tDCS seems to have a superior effect on both the clinical symptoms and cognitive deficits. However, the routine clinical application of this method as an efficient therapeutic intervention cannot yet be recommended based on these studies ..."
Mohammad AliSalehinejad, Vahid Nejati, Mohsen Mosayebi-Samani, Ali Mohammadi, MilesWischnewski, Min-Fang Kuo, AllesioAvenanti, Carmelo M. Vicario & Michael A.Nitsche, "Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation in ADHD: A Systematic Reviewof Efficacy, Safety, and Protocol-induced Electrical Field Modeling Results," NeuroscienceBulletin(2020),https://doi.org/10.1007/s12264-020-00501-x.