Neuromodulation for the treatment of functional neurological disorder and somatic symptom disorder: a systematic review

Functional neurological disorder and somatic symptom disorder are complex neuropsychiatric conditions that have been linked to circuit-based dysfunction of brain networks. Neuromodulation is a novel therapeutic strategy capable of modulating relevant brain networks, making it a promising potential candidate for the treatment of these patient populations. We conducted a systematic review of Medline, Embase and PsycINFO up to 4 March 2021. Trials investigating neuromodulation devices for the treatment of functional neurological disorder or somatic symptom disorder were selected. Extracted variables included study design, demographic and clinical characteristics, psychiatric comorbidity, neurostimulation protocols, clinical outcome measures and results. 404 studies were identified with 12 meeting inclusion criteria. 221 patients were treated in the included studies with mean study sample size of 18 (4–70). Five studies were randomised clinical trials. Functional motor symptoms (six weakness, four movement disorders) were the most studied subpopulations. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) was the most frequently used device (10 studies), followed by electroconvulsive therapy (one study) and direct-current stimulation (one study). Treatment protocols varied in intended therapeutic mechanism(s): eight studies aimed to modulate underlying network dysfunction, five aimed to demonstrate movement (one also leveraged the former) and three boosted their primary mechanism with enhanced suggestion/expectation. All but one study reported positive results; however, methodological/outcome heterogeneity, mixed study quality and small sample sizes precluded quantitative meta-analysis. Neuromodulation, particularly TMS for the treatment of functional motor symptoms, shows preliminary promise in a growing line of research. Larger, sham-controlled studies are needed to further establish efficacy and better understand therapeutic mechanisms.

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