Last updated on March 2019

tDCS Plus Virtual Reality for PTSD


Brief description of study

This study will test the effectiveness of combining non-invasive brain stimulation, called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), with virtual reality exposure as a treatment for Veterans with chronic posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Investigators will test whether this intervention improves PTSD symptoms and improves quality of life. Results from this study may be used to develop a new non-medication approach to treating chronic PTSD.

Detailed Study Description

PTSD is highly prevalent in Veterans and is associated with significant psychiatric and medical comorbidity, as well as poor quality of life. Despite its prevalence and impact, the success of currently available treatments is mixed, highlighting the need for novel approaches that aim to reduce symptoms and improve outcomes. Prior research has demonstrated that reduced activity in a part of the brain, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC), is associated with an inability to regulate fear responses, preventing the generation of safety memories and allowing PTSD symptoms to persist. Targeting the VMPFC with non-invasive electrical brain stimulation may therefore alleviate these symptoms.

Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a type of non-invasive brain stimulation that may enhance the likelihood of neuronal activity in the VMPFC. In doing so, tDCS prepares the brain to respond to external stimuli and to facilitate learning and memory. Because therapeutic success from exposure to trauma-related content - as used in exposure-based therapy for PTSD - is thought to be based on an adaptive learning process, applying tDCS in combination with exposure to trauma cues may effectively boost exposure-based learning. To do this, investigators at the Providence VA Medical Center will use a standardized virtual reality (VR) setting to deliver trauma-related content. The virtual reality setting involves three, 8-minute driving scenarios, which consist of VR stimuli (sights, sounds, smells, etc.) often encountered in combat training and in theater.

Eligible participants will be randomized to receive six sessions of either active tDCS plus virtual reality (tDCS+VR) or sham tDCS+VR. Clinical and self-report assessments will be completed at baseline, midpoint, and endpoint, as well as 1 and 3 months following the final tDCS+VR session. Participants will also undergo a MRI before and after completion of all six tDCS+VR sessions.

Clinical Study Identifier: NCT03372460

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Providence VA Medical Center, Providence, RI

Providence, RI United States
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