Double-blind randomized N-of-1 trial of transcranial alternating current stimulation for mal de débarquement syndrome

Yoon Hee Cha, Diamond Gleghorn, Benjamin Chipper Doudican

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8 Scopus citations


Background Mal de Débarquement Syndrome (MdDS) is a medically refractory neurotological disorder characterized by persistent oscillating vertigo that follows a period of entrainment to oscillating motion such as experienced during sea or air travel. Fronto-occipital hypersynchrony may correlate with MdDS symptom severity. Materials and methods Individuals with treatment refractory MdDS lasting at least 6 months received single administrations of three fronto-occipital transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) protocols in an “n-of-1” double-blind randomized design: alpha frequency anti-phase, alpha-frequency in-phase, and gamma frequency control. Baseline assessments were made on Day 1. The treatment protocol that led to the most acute reduction in symptoms during a test session on Day 2 was administered for 10-12 stacked sessions given on Days 3 through 5 (20-minutes at 2-4mA). Pre to post symptom changes were assessed on Day 1 and Day 5. Participants who could clearly choose a preferred protocol on Day 2 did better on Day 5 than those who could not make a short-term determination on Day 2 and either chose a protocol based on minimized side effects or were randomized to one of the three protocols. In addition, weekly symptom assessments were made for four baseline and seven post stimulation points for the Dizziness Handicap Inventory (DHI), MdDS Balance Rating Scale (MBRS), and Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS). Results Of 24 participants, 13 chose anti-phase, 7 chose in-phase, and 4 chose control stimulation. Compared to baseline, 10/24 completers noted ≥ 25% reduction, 5/24 ≥50% reduction, and 2/24 ≥75% reduction in oscillating vertigo intensity from Day 1 to Day 5. Stimulating at a frequency slightly higher than the individual alpha frequency (IAF) was better than stimulating at exactly the IAF, and slightly better than stimulating with a strategy of standardized stimulation at 10Hz. A one-way repeated measures ANOVA of weekly DHI, MBRS, and HADS measurements showed significant reductions immediately after treatment with improvement increasing through post-treatment week 6. Conclusion Fronto-occipital tACS may be effective in reducing the oscillating vertigo of MdDS and serve as a portable neuromodulation alternative for longer-term treatment. Stimulation frequency relative to the IAF may be important in determining the optimum treatment protocol [ study NCT02540616.].

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0263558
JournalPloS one
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2022

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Copyright: © 2022 Cha et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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