A randomized controlled trial of transcranial direct-current stimulation and cognitive training in children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder

Elias Boroda, Alyssa M. Krueger, Priya Bansal, Mariah J. Schumacher, Abhrajeet V. Roy, Christopher J. Boys, Kelvin O. Lim, Jeffrey R. Wozniak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: This study was a randomized double-blind sham-controlled trial examining the effects of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) augmented cognitive training (CT) in children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). Prenatal alcohol exposure has profound detrimental effects on brain development and individuals with FASD commonly present with deficits in executive functions including attention and working memory. The most commonly studied treatment for executive deficits is CT, which involves repeated drilling of exercises targeting the impaired functions. As currently implemented, CT requires many hours and the observed effect sizes are moderate. Neuromodulation via tDCS can enhance brain plasticity and prior studies demonstrate that combining tDCS with CT improves efficacy and functional outcomes. TDCS-augmented CT has not yet been tested in FASD, a condition in which there are known abnormalities in neuroplasticity and few interventions. Methods: This study examined the feasibility and efficacy of this approach in 44 children with FASD. Participants were randomized to receive five sessions of CT with either active or sham tDCS targeting the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain that is heavily involved in executive functioning. Results: The intervention was feasible and well-tolerated in children with FASD. The tDCS group showed nominally significant improvement in attention on a continuous performance test compared to sham (p = .043). Group differences were observed at the third, fourth and fifth treatment sessions. There was no effect of tDCS on working memory (p = .911). Further, we found no group differences on a trail making task (p = .659) or on the verbal fluency test (p = .826). In the active tDCS group, a significant correlation was observed between improvement in attention scores and decrease in parent-reported attention deficits (p = .010). Conclusions: These results demonstrate that tDCS-augmented CT is well tolerated in children with FASD and potentially offers benefits over and above CT alone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1059-1068
Number of pages10
JournalBrain Stimulation
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • Brain
  • Cognitive
  • FASD
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
  • TDCS
  • Transcranial direct current stimulation
  • Treatment

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article

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