Background: Multiple groups have reported on the use of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) in treatment-resistant major depression. The purpose of this study is to assess the efficacy of rTMS in unmedicated, treatment-resistant patients who meet criteria for major depression.
Methods: Depressed subjects, who had failed to respond to a median of four treatment trials, were assigned in a randomized double-blind manner to receive either active (n = 10; 20 2-sec trains of 20 Hz stimulation with 58-sec intervals; delivered at 80% motor threshold with the figure-of-eight coil positioned over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) or sham (n = 10; similar conditions with the coil elevated and angled 45 degrees tangentially to the scalp) rTMS. These sequences were applied during 10 consecutive weekdays. Continuous electroencephalogram sampling and daily motor threshold determinations were also obtained.
Results: The group mean 25-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS) score was 37.2 (+/- 2.0 SEM) points. Adjusted mean decreases in HDRS scores were 14.0 (+/- 3.7) and 0.2 (+/- 4.1) points for the active and control groups, respectively (p <.05). One of 10 subjects receiving active treatment demonstrated a robust response (i.e., HDRS decreased from 47 to 7 points); three other patients demonstrated 40-45% decreases in HDRS scores. No patients receiving sham treatment demonstrated partial or full responses.
Conclusions: A 2-week course of active rTMS resulted in statistically significant but clinically modest reductions of depressive symptoms, as compared to sham rTMS in a population characterized by treatment resistance.