Lesion and neuroimaging studies suggest that left prefrontal lobe dysfunction is pathophysiologically linked to depression. Rapid-rate transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) to prefrontal structures has a lateralised effect on mood in normal volunteers, and several preliminary studies suggest a beneficial effect of rTMS on depression. However, adequately controlled studies have not been conducted.
We have studied the effects of focal rTMS on the depressive symptoms in 17 patients with medication-resistant depression of psychotic subtype. The study was designed as a multiple cross-over, randomised placebo-controlled trial. Sham rTMS and stimulation of different cortical areas were used as controls.
Left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex rTMS resulted in a significant decrease in scores on the Hamilton depression rating scale HDRS (from 25.2 to 13.8) and the self-rated Beck questionnaire BQ (from 47.9 to 25.7). 11 of the 17 patients showed pronounced improvement that lasted for about 2 weeks after 5 days of daily rTMS sessions. No patient experienced any significant undesirable side-effects.
Our findings emphasise the role of the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in depression, and suggest that rTMS of the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex might become a safe, non-convulsive alternative to electroconvulsive treatment in depression.
Lancet 1996 Jul 27;348(9022):233-7
Pascual-Leone A, Rubio B, Pallardo F, Catala MD.
Departamento de Fisiologia, Universidad de Valencia, Spain.