Metabolic changes after repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) of the left prefrontal cortex: a sham-controlled proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H MRS) study of healthy brain

Eur J Neurosci. 2003 Jun;17(11):2462-8. doi: 10.1046/j.1460-9568.2003.02683.x.


Rapid transcranial magnetic stimulation is being increasingly used in the treatment of psychiatric disorders, especially major depression. However, its mechanisms of action are still unclear. The aim of this study was to assess metabolic changes by proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy following high-frequency rapid transcranial magnetic stimulation (20 Hz), both immediately after a single session and 24 h after a series of five consecutive sessions. Twelve healthy volunteers were enrolled in a prospective single-blind, randomized study [sham (n = 5) vs. real (n = 7)]. Three brain regions were investigated (right, left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, left anterior cingulate cortex). A single as well as a series of consecutive rapid transcranial magnetic stimulations affected cortical glutamate/glutamine levels. These effects were present not only close to the stimulation site (left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex), but also in remote (right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, left cingulate cortex) brain regions. Remarkably, the observed changes in glutamate/glutamine levels were dependent on the pre-transcranial magnetic stimulation glutamate/glutamine concentration, i.e. the lower the pre-stimulation glutamate/glutamine level, the higher the glutamate/glutamine increase observed after short- or long-term stimulation (5 days). In general, the treatment was well tolerated and no serious side-effects were reported. Neither transient mood changes nor significant differences in the outcome of a series of neuropsychological test batteries after real or sham transcranial magnetic stimulation occurred in our experiment. In summary, these data indicate that rapid transcranial magnetic stimulation may act via stimulation of glutamatergic prefrontal neurons.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Biotransformation*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Dominance, Cerebral
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Female
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism
  • Glutamine / metabolism
  • Gyrus Cinguli / metabolism
  • Gyrus Cinguli / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / radiation effects
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation*
  • Tritium / metabolism*


  • Glutamine
  • Tritium
  • Glutamic Acid