Rigor and reproducibility in research with transcranial electrical stimulation: An NIMH-sponsored workshop

Marom Bikson, Andre R. Brunoni, Leigh E. Charvet, Vincent P. Clark, Leonardo G. Cohen, Zhi De Deng, Jacek Dmochowski, Dylan J. Edwards, Flavio Frohlich, Emily S. Kappenman, Kelvin O. Lim, Colleen Loo, Antonio Mantovani, David P. McMullen, Lucas C. Parra, Michele Pearson, Jessica D. Richardson, Judith M. Rumsey, Pejman Sehatpour, David SommersGozde Unal, Eric M. Wassermann, Adam J. Woods, Sarah H. Lisanby

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

126 Scopus citations


Background: Neuropsychiatric disorders are a leading source of disability and require novel treatments that target mechanisms of disease. As such disorders are thought to result from aberrant neuronal circuit activity, neuromodulation approaches are of increasing interest given their potential for manipulating circuits directly. Low intensity transcranial electrical stimulation (tES) with direct currents (transcranial direct current stimulation, tDCS) or alternating currents (transcranial alternating current stimulation, tACS) represent novel, safe, well-tolerated, and relatively inexpensive putative treatment modalities. Objective: This report seeks to promote the science, technology and effective clinical applications of these modalities, identify research challenges, and suggest approaches for addressing these needs in order to achieve rigorous, reproducible findings that can advance clinical treatment. Methods: The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) convened a workshop in September 2016 that brought together experts in basic and human neuroscience, electrical stimulation biophysics and devices, and clinical trial methods to examine the physiological mechanisms underlying tDCS/tACS, technologies and technical strategies for optimizing stimulation protocols, and the state of the science with respect to therapeutic applications and trial designs. Results: Advances in understanding mechanisms, methodological and technological improvements (e.g., electronics, computational models to facilitate proper dosing), and improved clinical trial designs are poised to advance rigorous, reproducible therapeutic applications of these techniques. A number of challenges were identified and meeting participants made recommendations made to address them. Conclusions: These recommendations align with requirements in NIMH funding opportunity announcements to, among other needs, define dosimetry, demonstrate dose/response relationships, implement rigorous blinded trial designs, employ computational modeling, and demonstrate target engagement when testing stimulation-based interventions for the treatment of mental disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)465-480
Number of pages16
JournalBrain Stimulation
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported in part by grants P20GM109089 from the National Institute of General Medical Medical Sciences to JDR and by R01HD069776 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to DJE.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018


  • Neuromodulation
  • Reproducibility
  • Transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS)
  • Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS)
  • Transcranial electrical stimulation (tES)


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