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Approximately 30% of patients with schizophrenia experience auditory hallucinations that are refractory to antipsychotic medications. Here, we evaluated the feasibility and efficacy of transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) that we hypothesized would improve auditory hallucination symptoms by enhancing synchronization between the frontal and temporo-parietal areas of the left hemisphere.
22 participants were randomized to one of three arms and received twice daily, 20 min sessions of sham, 10 Hz 2 mA peak-to-peak tACS, or 2 mA tDCS over the course of 5 consecutive days. Symptom improvement was assessed using the Auditory Hallucination Rating Scale (AHRS) as the primary outcome measure. The Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) and the Brief Assessment of Cognition in Schizophrenia (BACS) were secondary outcomes.
Primary and secondary behavioral outcomes were not significantly different between the three arms. However, effect size analyses show that tACS had the greatest effect based on the auditory hallucinations scale for the week of stimulation (1.31 for tACS; 1.06 and 0.17, for sham and tDCS, respectively). Effect size analysis for the secondary outcomes revealed heterogeneous results across measures and stimulation conditions.
To our knowledge, this is the first clinical trial of tACS for the treatment of symptoms of a psychiatric condition. Further studies with larger sample sizes are needed to better understand the effect of tACS on auditory hallucinations.
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