Sham transcranial electrical stimulation and its effects on corticospinal excitability: A systematic review and meta-analysis

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10 Citations (Scopus)


Sham stimulation is used in randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to assess the efficacy of active stimulation and placebo effects. It should mimic the characteristics of active stimulation to achieve blinding integrity. The present study was a systematic review and meta-analysis of the published literature to identify the effects of sham transcranial electrical stimulation (tES) - including anodal and cathodal transcranial direct current stimulation (a-tDCS, c-tDCS), transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS), transcranial random noise stimulation (tRNS) and transcranial pulsed current stimulation (tPCS) - on corticospinal excitability (CSE), compared to baseline in healthy individuals. Electronic databases - PubMed, CINAHL, Scopus, Science Direct and MEDLINE (Ovid) - were searched for RCTs of tES from 1990 to March 2017. Thirty RCTs were identified. Using a random-effects model, meta-analysis of a-tDCS, c-tDCS, tACS, tRNS and tPCS studies showed statistically non-significant pre-post effects of sham interventions on CSE. This review found evidence for statically non-significant effects of sham tES on CSE.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-232
Number of pages10
JournalReviews in the Neurosciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 23 Feb 2018


  • corticospinal excitability (CSE)
  • sham stimulation
  • transcranial electrical stimulation (tES)
  • transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)

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