A Systematic Review on the Effect of Transcranial Direct Current and Magnetic Stimulation on Fear Memory and Extinction

SOURCE: Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 15 (no pagination), 2021. Article Number: 655947. Date of Publication: 22 Mar 2021.

AUTHORS: Markovic V.; Vicario C.M.; Yavari F.; Salehinejad M.A.; Nitsche M.A.

ABSTRACT: Anxiety disorders are among the most prevalent mental disorders. Present treatments such as cognitive behavior therapy and pharmacological treatments show only moderate success, which emphasizes the importance for the development of new treatment protocols. Non-invasive brain stimulation methods such as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) have been probed as therapeutic option for anxiety disorders in recent years. Mechanistic information about their mode of action, and most efficient protocols is however limited. Here the fear extinction model can serve as a model of exposure therapies for studying therapeutic mechanisms, and development of appropriate intervention protocols. We systematically reviewed 30 research articles that investigated the impact of rTMS and tDCS on fear memory and extinction in animal models and humans, in clinical and healthy populations. The results of these studies suggest that tDCS and rTMS can be efficient methods to modulate fear memory and extinction. Furthermore, excitability-enhancing stimulation applied over the vmPFC showed the strongest potential to enhance fear extinction. We further discuss factors that determine the efficacy of rTMS and tDCS in the context of the fear extinction model and provide future directions to optimize parameters and protocols of stimulation for research and treatment.