Context: Daily left prefrontal repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) has been studied as a potential treatment for depression, but previous work had mixed outcomes and did not adequately mask sham conditions.
Objective: To test whether daily left prefrontal rTMS safely and effectively treats major depressive disorder.
Design: Prospective, multisite, randomized, active sham-controlled (1:1 randomization), duration-adaptive design with 3 weeks of daily weekday treatment (fixed-dose phase) followed by continued blinded treatment for up to another 3 weeks in improvers.
Setting: Four US university hospital clinics.
Patients: Approximately 860 outpatients were screened, yielding 199 antidepressant drug-free patients with unipolar nonpsychotic major depressive disorder.
Intervention: We delivered rTMS to the left prefrontal cortex at 120% motor threshold (10 Hz, 4-second train duration, and 26-second intertrain interval) for 37.5 minutes (3000 pulses per session) using a figure-eight solid-core coil. Sham rTMS used a similar coil with a metal insert blocking the magnetic field and scalp electrodes that delivered matched somatosensory sensations.
Main outcome measure: In the intention-to-treat sample (n = 190), remission rates were compared for the 2 treatment arms using logistic regression and controlling for site, treatment resistance, age, and duration of the current depressive episode.
Results: Patients, treaters, and raters were effectively masked. Minimal adverse effects did not differ by treatment arm, with an 88% retention rate (90% sham and 86% active). Primary efficacy analysis revealed a significant effect of treatment on the proportion of remitters (14.1% active rTMS and 5.1% sham) (P = .02). The odds of attaining remission were 4.2 times greater with active rTMS than with sham (95% confidence interval, 1.32-13.24). The number needed to treat was 12. Most remitters had low antidepressant treatment resistance. Almost 30% of patients remitted in the open-label follow-up (30.2% originally active and 29.6% sham).
Conclusion: Daily left prefrontal rTMS as monotherapy produced statistically significant and clinically meaningful antidepressant therapeutic effects greater than sham.
Trial registration: clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT00149838.