Treatment effect variability in brain stimulation across psychiatric disorders: A meta-analysis of variance

Stephanie Homan, Whitney Muscat, Andrea Joanlanne, Nikolaos Marousis, Giacomo Cecere, Lena Hofmann, Ellen Ji, Maria Neumeier, Stefan Vetter, Erich Seifritz, Thomas Dierks, Philipp Homan
Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 2021 January 19
Noninvasive brain stimulation methods such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) are promising add-on treatments for a number of psychiatric conditions. Yet, some of the initial excitement is wearing off. Randomized controlled trials (RCT) have found inconsistent results. This inconsistency is suspected to be the consequence of variation in treatment effects and solvable by identifying responders in RCTs and individualizing treatment. However, is there enough evidence from RCTs that patients respond differently to treatment? This question can be addressed by comparing the variability in the active stimulation group with the variability in the sham group. We searched MEDLINE/PubMed and included all double-blinded, sham-controlled RCTs and crossover trials that used TMS or tDCS in adults with a unipolar or bipolar depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia spectrum disorder, or obsessive compulsive disorder. In accordance with the PRISMA guidelines to ensure data quality and validity, we extracted a measure of variability of the primary outcome. A total of 130 studies with 5748 patients were considered in the analysis. We calculated variance-weighted variability ratios for each comparison of active stimulation versus sham and entered them into a random-effects model. We hypothesized that treatment effect variability in TMS or tDCS would be reflected by increased variability after active compared with sham stimulation, or in other words, a variability ratio greater than one. Across diagnoses, we found only a minimal increase in variability after active stimulation compared with sham that did not reach statistical significance (variability ratio = 1.03; 95% CI, 0.97-1.08, P = 0.358). In conclusion, this study found little evidence for treatment effect variability in brain stimulation, suggesting that the need for personalized or stratified medicine is still an open question.

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