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Can Brain Stimulation Improve Cognition in MS? New Study Suggests it Can

December 28, 2023

Information processing speed improved with brain stimulation in a new study funded by the National MS Society. With additional research in the future, these results show promise for a non-drug intervention that may help address cognitive problems in people with MS.

Background: MS symptoms may include difficulties with thinking (such as processing information), even early in MS. These problems can have major impacts on a person’s quality of life. During a recent postdoctoral fellowship funded by the National MS Society, Wan-Yu Hsu, PhD, and mentor Riley Bove, MD (University of California, San Francisco) investigated an approach called transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS).

tACS is a type of non-invasive brain stimulation that applies weak currents to the brain through the scalp. The team tested the idea that this approach might improve thinking problems in people with MS, since it has been useful in people with other conditions that cause problems with thinking.

The Study: The team enrolled 60 people with MS who had cognitive problems. Information processing speed was assessed using a standard test, then participants received one 20-minute session of tACS (some at a high dose, some at a low dose) or a “sham” version, while engaged in a cognitive program on a tablet. Afterward, processing speed was measured again.

Results: Processing speed improved significantly with one session of tACS but did not improve significantly in those receiving the sham version. This change was more pronounced in those receiving the lower dose of tACS. Participants tolerated tACS well and all completed the study.

Why does this matter? This study tests a nonpharmacologic method for improving cognitive function in those living with MS. The results show benefit and warrant further study to confirm the findings and to determine if repeated sessions would be even more helpful. The authors point out that it would be possible to adapt tACS to portable versions that could be used at home.

Learn more…
What you can do now to detect problems and improve cognition

Effects of transcranial alternating current stimulation on cognitive function in people with multiple sclerosis: A randomized controlled trial” by Wan-Yu Hsu, Theodore Zanto, Jee Eun Park, Adam Gazzaley, and Riley M. Bove is published in Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders (2023;80:105090).

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system. Currently there is no cure. Symptoms vary from person to person and may include disabling fatigue, mobility challenges, cognitive changes, and vision issues. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical to minimize disability. Significant progress is being made to achieve a world free of MS.

About the National Multiple Sclerosis Society

The National MS Society, founded in 1946, is the global leader of a growing movement dedicated to creating a world free of MS. The Society funds cutting-edge research for a cure, drives change through advocacy and provides programs and services to help people affected by MS live their best lives. Connect to learn more and get involved:, Facebook, X, formerly known as Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or 1-800-344-4867.


© 2024 The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is a tax exempt 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Its Identification Number (EIN) is 13-5661935.