Transcranial direct current stimulation may modulate extinction memory in posttraumatic stress disorder.

Brain and behavior

PubMedID: 28523223

Van't Wout M, Longo SM, Reddy MK, Philip NS, Bowker MT, Greenberg BD. Transcranial direct current stimulation may modulate extinction memory in posttraumatic stress disorder. Brain Behav. 2017;7(5):e00681.
BACKGROUND
Abnormalities in fear extinction and recall are core components of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Data from animal and human studies point to a role of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) in extinction learning and subsequent retention of extinction memories. Given the increasing interest in developing noninvasive brain stimulation protocols for psychopathology treatment, we piloted whether transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) during extinction learning, vs. during consolidation of extinction learning, might improve extinction recall in veterans with warzone-related PTSD.

METHODS
Twenty-eight veterans with PTSD completed a 2-day Pavlovian fear conditioning, extinction, and recall paradigm. Participants received one 10-min session of 2 mA anodal tDCS over AF3, intended to target the vmPFC. Fourteen received tDCS that started simultaneously with extinction learning onset, and the remaining 14 participants received tDCS during extinction consolidation. Normalized skin conductance reactivity (SCR) was the primary outcome measure. Linear mixed effects models were used to test for effects of tDCS on late extinction and early extinction recall 24 hr later.

RESULTS
During early recall, veterans who received tDCS during extinction consolidation showed slightly lower SCR in response to previously extinguished stimuli as compared to veterans who received tDCS simultaneous with extinction learning (p = .08), generating a medium effect size (Cohen's d = .38). There was no significant effect of tDCS on SCR during late extinction.

CONCLUSIONS
These preliminary findings suggest that testing the effects of tDCS during consolidation of fear extinction may have promise as a way of enhancing extinction recall.