Rapid transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) applied to the left dorsal lateral frontal cortex has been shown to produce antidepressant effects. Older depressed patients, however, in one study showed a lower response rate than younger patients. The current study examined treatment response in 20 depressed, treatment-refractory patients (mean age 60.7 +/- 9.8 years) given five sessions of rTMS at 20 Hz for 2 seconds over 20 trains at 80% of motor threshold or identical placebo stimulation, after patients had been withdrawn from their antidepressants. There were no significant differences in Hamilton Depression Scale scores either before or after treatment at 7 days' follow-up. There were three responders to active treatment and three to sham treatment and responders had significantly greater frontal lobe volume than nonresponders (p = .03). These findings suggest that the stimulation parameters used in this study were probably insufficient to produce treatment response and that frontal atrophy may interfere with the effectiveness of rTMS.