Schizophrenia TreAtment with electRic Transcranial Stimulation (STARTS): design, rationale and objectives of a randomized, double-blinded, sham-controlled trial

Abstract Introduction Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder. While some antipsychotic medications have demonstrated efficacy in treating positive symptoms, there is no widely recognized treatment for negative symptoms, which can cause significant distress and impairment for patients with schizophrenia. Here we describe the rationale and design of the STARTS study (Schizophrenia TreAtment with electRic Transcranial Stimulation), a clinical trial aimed to test the efficacy of a non-pharmacological treatment known as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) for treating the negative symptoms of schizophrenia Methods The STARTS study is designed as a randomized, sham-controlled, double-blinded trial evaluating tDCS for the treatment of the negative symptoms of schizophrenia. One-hundred patients will be enrolled and submitted to 10 tDCS sessions over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (anodal stimulation) and left temporoparietal junction (cathodal stimulation) over 5 consecutive days. Participants will be assessed using clinical and neuropsychological tests before and after the intervention. The primary outcome is change in the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) negative subscale score over time and across groups. Biological markers, including blood neurotrophins and interleukins, genetic polymorphisms, and motor cortical excitability, will also be assessed. Results The clinical results will provide insights about tDCS as a treatment for the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, and the biomarker investigation will contribute towards an improved understanding of the tDCS mechanisms of action. Conclusion Our results could introduce a novel therapeutic technique for the negative symptoms of schizophrenia. Clinical trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov, NCT02535676 .