High frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation treatment for major depression: Dissociated effects on psychopathology and neurocognition

J Affect Disord. 2017 Aug 1;217:112-117. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2017.03.075. Epub 2017 Apr 6.


Objectives: This open-label pilot study explored the effects of a course of accelerated high-frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (HF-rTMS) on two neurocognitive domains (decision-making and impulse control) in patients with major depressive disorder (MDD).

Methods: Participants with MDD and a treatment resistant major depressive episode (n=24) underwent twice-daily HF-rTMS targeted at the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (lDLPFC) over two weeks. Psychopathology was assessed by clinician-administered and self-reported measures of depression and anxiety; decision-making was assessed by the Iowa Gambling Task, the Balloon Analog Risk Task and the Game of Dice Task; impulse control was assessed by the Stroop Color-Word Task, the Continuous Performance Task and the Stop-Signal Task.

Results: Depression and anxiety scores significantly improved from pre-post HF-rTMS treatment. However, none of the decision-making or impulse control variables of interest changed significantly from pre-post HF-rTMS. Moreover, there was no correlation between changes in psychopathological symptoms and in neurocognition.

Limitations: This is a moderately sized open label trial, and the confounds of ongoing psychotropics and illness chronicity can not be excluded in this treatment resistant sample.

Conclusions: There is dissociation between acute symptomatic benefit after a course of accelerated HF-rTMS applied to the lDLPFC in treatment resistant MDD and performance on tests of decision making and impulse control. Though rTMS appears cognitively safe, additional research is warranted to understand this potential dissociation and its putative clinical implications.

Keywords: Decision making; Impulse control; Major depressive disorder; Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS); Treatment resistant depression.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / physiopathology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy*
  • Depressive Disorder, Treatment-Resistant / therapy
  • Dissociative Disorders / etiology
  • Dissociative Disorders / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iowa
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Psychopathology
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation*

Grant support