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Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation is as effective as electroconvulsive therapy in the treatment of nondelusional major depressive disorder: an open study



Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), a new method for the stimulation of the central nervous system, is being proposed as a potential new treatment in patients with major depressive disorder (MDD). We tested the hypothesis that rTMS would be as effective as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in patients with MDD.


Forty patients with MDD referred for ECT were randomly assigned to either ECT or rTMS. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation was performed at 90% power of the motor threshold. The stimulation frequency was 10 Hz for either 2 sec (first eight patients) or 6 sec (final 12 patients) for 20 trains. Patients were treated for up to 20 treatment days. Electroconvulsive therapy was performed according to standard protocols.


Overall patients responded best to ECT (chi(2) = 3.8, p <.05). Patients with MDD and psychosis responded significantly better to ECT (chi(2) = 9.2, p <. 01), whereas MDD patients without psychosis responded similarly to both treatments (chi(2) = 0.0, ns). The analysis of variance with repeated measures of clinical variables for the whole sample revealed significant treatment effects for both groups; however, interaction between group and treatment was seen only for the Global Assessment of Function and the Sleep assessment. When the psychosis-nonpsychosis grouping was considered, patients with psychosis responded dramatically better to ECT in all assessments, whereas those without psychosis responded similarly to both treatments.


Overall ECT was a more potent treatment for patients with MDD, this being particularly evident in patients with MDD and psychosis; however, in patients with MDD without psychosis the effects of rTMS were similar to those of ECT. The results we report are encouraging and support an important role for rTMS in the treatment of severe MDD; however, additional blinded studies are needed to precisely define this role.

Biol Psychiatry 2000 Feb 15;47(4):314-24
Grunhaus L, Dannon PN, Schreiber S, Dolberg OH, Amiaz R, Ziv R, Lefkifker E.
Psychiatry Division, Sheba Medical Center, Ramat Gan, Israel.

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