A systematic review of the effects of low-frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation on cognition

J Neural Transm (Vienna). 2016 Dec;123(12):1479-1490. doi: 10.1007/s00702-016-1592-8. Epub 2016 Aug 8.


rTMS is increasingly used for a variety of neuropsychiatric conditions. There are data to support 'fast' rTMS (≥10 Hz) having some positive effects on cognitive functioning, but a dearth of research looking at any such effects of 'slow' rTMS. This question is important as cognitive dysfunction accompanies many neuropsychiatric conditions and neuromodulation that potentially enhances or hinders such functioning has important clinical consequences. To determine cognitive effects of slow (≤1 Hz) rTMS, a systematic review of randomized control trials assayed cognition in neurological, psychiatric, and healthy volunteer ≤1 Hz rTMS paradigms. Both active (fast rTMS) and placebo comparators were included. 497 Records were initially obtained; 20 met inclusion criteria for evaluation. Four major categories emerged: mood disorders; psychotic disorders; cerebrovascular accidents; and 'other' (PTSD, OCD, epilepsy, anxiety, and tinnitus). Cognitive effects were measured across several domains: attention, executive functioning, learning, and psychomotor speed. Variability of study paradigms and reporting precluded meta-analytical analysis. No statistically significant improvement or deterioration was consistently found in any cognitive domain or illness category. These data support the overall safety of rTMS in not adversely affecting cognitive functioning. There are some data indicating that rTMS might have cognitive enhancing potential, but these are too limited at this time to make any firm conclusions, and the literature is marked by considerable heterogeneity in study parameters that hinder interpretation. Greater consensus is required in future studies in cognitive markers, and particularly in reporting of protocols. Future work should evaluate the effects of rTMS on cognitive training.

Keywords: Cognition; Neuropsychiatry; Systematic review; rTMS.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Cognition Disorders / therapy*
  • Executive Function
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / complications
  • Mood Disorders / complications
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Stroke / complications
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods*