Safety and feasibility of magnetic seizure therapy (MST) in major depression: randomized within-subject comparison with electroconvulsive therapy

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2003 Oct;28(10):1852-65. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1300229.


Magnetic seizure therapy (MST) is a novel means of performing convulsive therapy using rapidly alternating strong magnetic fields. MST offers greater control of intracerebral current intensity than is possible with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). These features may result in a superior cognitive side effect profile for MST, while possibly retaining the efficacy of ECT. The objective of this study was to determine whether MST and ECT differ in seizure characteristics, and acute objective and subjective cognitive side effects. A total of 10 inpatients in a major depressive episode referred for ECT were enrolled in this randomized, within-subject, double-masked trial. Seizure threshold was determined with MST and ECT in the first two sessions of a course of convulsive therapy, with order randomized. The remaining two sessions consisted of suprathreshold stimulation with MST and ECT. A neuropsychological battery and side effect rating scale were administered by a masked rater before and after each session. Tonic-clonic seizures were elicited with MST in all patients. Compared to ECT, MST seizures had shorter duration, lower ictal EEG amplitude, and less postictal suppression. Patients had fewer subjective side effects and recovered orientation more quickly with MST than ECT. MST was also superior to ECT on measures of attention, retrograde amnesia, and category fluency. Magnetic seizure induction in patients with depression is feasible, and appears to have a superior acute side effect profile than ECT. Future research will be needed to establish whether MST has antidepressant efficacy.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Amnesia, Anterograde
  • Amnesia, Retrograde
  • Cognition
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy*
  • Electric Stimulation / adverse effects
  • Electric Stimulation / methods*
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy / adverse effects
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy / methods*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Electromagnetic Fields* / adverse effects
  • Electromyography
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Cortex / physiopathology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Reproducibility of Results*
  • Safety*
  • Seizures / physiopathology