Transcranial electrical stimulation nomenclature

Marom Bikson, Zeinab Esmaeilpour, Devin Adair, Greg Kronberg, William J. Tyler, Andrea Antal, Abhishek Datta, Bernhard A. Sabel, Michael A. Nitsche, Colleen Loo, Dylan Edwards, Hamed Ekhtiari, Helena Knotkova, Adam J. Woods, Benjamin M. Hampstead, Bashar W. Badran, Angel V. Peterchev

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Transcranial electrical stimulation (tES) aims to alter brain function non-invasively by applying current to electrodes on the scalp. Decades of research and technological advancement are associated with a growing diversity of tES methods and the associated nomenclature for describing these methods. Whether intended to produce a specific response so the brain can be studied or lead to a more enduring change in behavior (e.g. for treatment), the motivations for using tES have themselves influenced the evolution of nomenclature, leading to some scientific, clinical, and public confusion. This ambiguity arises from (i) the infinite parameter space available in designing tES methods of application and (ii) varied naming conventions based upon the intended effects and/or methods of application. Here, we compile a cohesive nomenclature for contemporary tES technologies that respects existing and historical norms, while incorporating insight and classifications based on state-of-the-art findings. We consolidate and clarify existing terminology conventions, but do not aim to create new nomenclature. The presented nomenclature aims to balance adopting broad definitions that encourage flexibility and innovation in research approaches, against classification specificity that minimizes ambiguity about protocols but can hinder progress. Constructive research around tES classification, such as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), should allow some variations in protocol but also distinguish from approaches that bear so little resemblance that their safety and efficacy should not be compared directly. The proposed framework includes terms in contemporary use across peer-reviewed publications, including relatively new nomenclature introduced in the past decade, such as transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) and transcranial pulsed current stimulation (tPCS), as well as terms with long historical use such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). We also define commonly used terms-of-the-trade including electrode, lead, anode, and cathode, whose prior use, in varied contexts, can also be a source of confusion. This comprehensive clarification of nomenclature and associated preliminary proposals for standardized terminology can support the development of consensus on efficacy, safety, and regulatory standards.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1349-1366
Number of pages18
JournalBrain Stimulation
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019


  • Brain stimulation
  • Classification
  • Nomenclature
  • Terminology
  • Transcranial electrical stimulation (tES)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Biophysics
  • Clinical Neurology


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