The critical role of cognitive-based trait differences in transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) suppression of food craving and eating in frank obesity

Academic Article


  • Obesity remains a major public health concern and novel treatments are needed. Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a neuromodulation technique shown to reduce food craving and consumption, especially when targeting the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) with a right anode/left cathode electrode montage. Despite the implications to treat frank (non-bingeeating) obesity, no study has tested the right anode/left cathode montage in this population. Additionally, most tDCS appetite studies have not controlled for differences in traits under DLPFC control that may influence how well one responds to tDCS. Hence, N = 18 (10F/8M) adults with frank obesity completed the Dutch Eating Behavior Questionnaire-Restraint and Barratt Impulsiveness Scale, and received 20 min of 2 mA active tDCS and control tDCS session. Craving and eating was assessed at both sessions with a food photo “wanting” test and in-lab measures of total, preferred, and less-preferred kilocalories consumed of three highly palatable snack foods. While main effects of tDCS vs. control were not found, significant differences emerged when trait scores were controlled. tDCS reduced food craving in females with lower attention-type impulsiveness (p = 0.047), reduced preferred-food consumption in males with lower intent to restrict calories (p = 0.024), and reduced total food consumption in males with higher non-planning-type impulsiveness (p = 0.009) compared to control tDCS. This is the first study to find significant reductions in food craving and consumption in a sample with frank obesity using the most popular tDCS montage in appetite studies. The results also highlight the cognitive-based heterogeneity of individuals with obesity and the importance of considering these differences when evaluating the efficacy of DLPFC-targeted tDCS in future studies aimed at treating obesity.
  • Published In

  • Appetite  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Pubmed Id

  • 19395667
  • Author List

  • Ray MK; Sylvester MD; Osborn L; Helms J; Turan B; Burgess EE; Boggiano MM
  • Start Page

  • 568
  • End Page

  • 574
  • Volume

  • 116