Original article| Volume 95, ISSUE 2, P283-289, February 2014

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Effects in Disorders of Consciousness

Published:September 13, 2013DOI:



      To assess the efficacy of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) on improving consciousness in patients with persistent unresponsive wakefulness syndrome (UWS) (previously termed persistent vegetative state [PVS]) or in a minimally conscious state (MCS).


      Prospective, case series trial with follow-up at 12 months.


      General and research hospital.


      Inpatients in a PVS/UWS or MCS (N=10; 7 men, 3 women; age range, 19–62y; etiology: traumatic brain injury, n=5; anoxia, n=4; postoperative infarct, n=1; duration of PVS/UWS or MCS range, 6mo–10y). No participant withdrew because of adverse effects.


      All patients received sham tDCS for 20 minutes per day, 5 days per week, for 1 week, and real tDCS for 20 minutes per day, 5 days per week, for 2 weeks. An anodal electrode was placed over the left primary sensorimotor cortex or the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, with cathodal stimulation over the right eyebrow. One patient in an MCS received a second round of 10 tDCS sessions 3 months after initial participation.

      Main Outcome Measure

      JFK Coma Recovery Scale-Revised.


      All patients in an MCS showed clinical improvement immediately after treatment. The patient who received a second round of tDCS 3 months after initial participation showed further improvement and emergence into consciousness after stimulation, with no change between treatments. One patient who was in an MCS for <1 year before treatment (postoperative infarct) showed further improvement and emergence into consciousness at 12-month follow-up. No patient showed improvement before stimulation. No patient in a PVS/UWS showed immediate improvement after stimulation, but 1 patient who was in a PVS/UWS for 6 years before treatment showed improvement and change of status to an MCS at 12-month follow-up.
      Conclusions: tDCS seems promising for the rehabilitation of patients with severe disorders of consciousness. Severity and duration of pathology may be related to the degree of tDCS' beneficial effects.


      List of abbreviations:

      CRS-R (Coma Recovery Scale-Revised), DLPFC (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex), FDG-PET ([18F]-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography), fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), MCS (minimally conscious state), MCS– (minimally conscious state minus), MCS+ (minimally conscious state plus), PVS (persistent vegetative state), rCBF (regional cerebral blood flow), TBI (traumatic brain injury), tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation), UWS (unresponsive wakefulness syndrome), VS (vegetative state)
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