Transcranial direct current stimulation can enhance working memory in Huntington's disease

Clare Eddy, Kimron Shapiro, Andrew Clouter, Peter Hansen, Hugh Rickards

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Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) combined with a cognitive task can enhance targeted aspects of cognitive functioning in clinical populations. The movement disorder Huntington's disease (HD) is associated with progressive cognitive impairment. Deficits in working memory (WM) can be apparent early in the disease and impact functional capacity. We investigated whether tDCS combined with cognitive training could improve WM in patients with HD, and if baseline clinical or cognitive measures may predict efficacy. Twenty participants with HD completed this crossover trial, undergoing 1.5 mA anodal tDCS over left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and sham stimulation on separate visits. Participants and assessor were blinded to condition order, which was randomised across participants. All participants completed baseline clinical and cognitive assessments. Pre- and post-stimulation tasks included digit reordering, computerised n-back tests and a Stroop task. During 15 min of tDCS/sham stimulation, participants practiced 1- and 2-back WM tasks. Participants exhibited an increase in WM span on the digit re-ordering span task from pre- to post-stimulation after tDCS, but not after sham stimulation. Gains in WM were positively related to motor symptom ratings and negatively associated with verbal fluency scores. Patients with more severe motor symptoms showed greatest improvement, suggesting that motor symptom ratings may help identify patients who are most likely to benefit from tDCS. Conclusions: Dorsolateral prefrontal tDCS appears well tolerated in HD and enhances WM span compared to sham stimulation. Our findings strongly encourage further investigation of the extent to which tDCS combined with cognitive training could enhance everyday function in HD.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-82
JournalProgress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry
Early online date5 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2017


  • tDCS
  • working memory
  • cognition
  • dorsolateral prefrontal cortex
  • movement disorder
  • Huntington’s disease


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