Transcranial electrical stimulation modifies the neuronal response to psychosocial stress exposure

Andrea Antal, Thomas Fischer, Catarina Saiote, Robert Miller, Leila Chaieb, Danny J J Wang, Franziska Plessow, Walter Paulus, Clemens Kirschbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Stress is a constant characteristic of everyday life in our society, playing a role in triggering several chronic disorders. Therefore, there is an ongoing need to develop new methods in order to manage stress reactions. The regulatory function of right medial-prefrontal cortex (mPFC) is frequently reported by imaging studies during psychosocial stress situations. Here, we examined the effects of inhibitory and excitatory preconditioning stimulation via cathodal and anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) on psychosocial stress related behavioral indicators and physiological factors, including the cortisol level in the saliva and changes in brain perfusion. Twenty minutes real or sham tDCS was applied over the right mPFC of healthy subjects before the performance of the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST). Regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) was measured during stimulation and after TSST, using pseudo-continuous arterial spin labeling (pCASL). Comparing the effect of the different stimulation conditions, during anodal stimulation we found higher rCBF in the right mPFC, compared to the sham and in the right amygdala, superior PFC compared to the cathodal condition. Salivary cortisol levels showed a decrease in the anodal and increase in cathodal groups after completion of the TSST. The behavioral stress indicators indicated the increase of stress level, however, did not show any significant differences among groups. In this study we provide the first insights into the neuronal mechanisms mediating psychosocial stress responses by prefrontal tDCS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3750-3759
Number of pages10
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2014


  • ASL
  • Cortisol
  • FMRI
  • PFC
  • Psychosocial stress
  • TDCS


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