Aims: As alcohol dependency is characterized by severe executive function deficits, we examined the influence of high-frequency (HF) repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) applied to the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) on executive functioning in recently detoxified alcohol-dependent patients.
Methods: In this randomized, single blind, sham (placebo)-controlled, crossover study, we included 50 detoxified alcohol-dependent patients. We examined the effect of a single right DLPFC HF-rTMS session on commission errors, mean reaction times (RTs) and intra-individual reaction time variability (IIRTV) during a Go-NoGo task (50% Go/50% NoGo condition) in 29 alcohol-dependent patients. Patients completed this cognitive task immediately before and immediately after the stimulation session. In order to avoid carry-over effects between stimulation sessions, a 1-week inter-session interval was respected. Because rTMS treatment has been shown to affect subjective craving, all patients were also assessed with the Obsessive Compulsive Drinking Scale (OCDS).
Results: After both stimulation conditions, we observed a significant decrease of commission errors, without differences between active and sham HF-rTMS stimulation. No significant difference was observed between active and sham stimulation on mean RT. However, only active stimulation resulted in a significant decrease in IIRTV. No effects of stimulation were found for the craving measurements.
Conclusion: Our findings suggest that in recently detoxified alcohol-dependent patients, one right-sided HF-rTMS session stabilizes cognitive performance during executive control tasks, implying that active stimulation reduces patients' proneness to attentional lapses.