Possible Mechanisms Underlying the Therapeutic Effects of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Front Hum Neurosci. 2015 Jun 16;9:303. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00303. eCollection 2015.


Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is an effective method used to diagnose and treat many neurological disorders. Although repetitive TMS (rTMS) has been used to treat a variety of serious pathological conditions including stroke, depression, Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, pain, and migraines, the pathophysiological mechanisms underlying the effects of long-term TMS remain unclear. In the present review, the effects of rTMS on neurotransmitters and synaptic plasticity are described, including the classic interpretations of TMS effects on synaptic plasticity via long-term potentiation and long-term depression. We also discuss the effects of rTMS on the genetic apparatus of neurons, glial cells, and the prevention of neuronal death. The neurotrophic effects of rTMS on dendritic growth and sprouting and neurotrophic factors are described, including change in brain-derived neurotrophic factor concentration under the influence of rTMS. Also, non-classical effects of TMS related to biophysical effects of magnetic fields are described, including the quantum effects, the magnetic spin effects, genetic magnetoreception, the macromolecular effects of TMS, and the electromagnetic theory of consciousness. Finally, we discuss possible interpretations of TMS effects according to dynamical systems theory. Evidence suggests that a rTMS-induced magnetic field should be considered a separate physical factor that can be impactful at the subatomic level and that rTMS is capable of significantly altering the reactivity of molecules (radicals). It is thought that these factors underlie the therapeutic benefits of therapy with TMS. Future research on these mechanisms will be instrumental to the development of more powerful and reliable TMS treatment protocols.

Keywords: gene expression; magnetic field; magnetoreception; synaptic plasticity; transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Publication types

  • Review