The role of the prefrontal cortex in freezing of gait in Parkinson's disease: insights from a deep repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation exploratory study

Exp Brain Res. 2017 Aug;235(8):2463-2472. doi: 10.1007/s00221-017-4981-9. Epub 2017 May 16.


Freezing of Gait (FOG) is one of the most debilitating gait impairments in Parkinson's disease (PD), leading to increased fall risk and reduced health-related quality of life. The utility of parkinsonian medications is often limited in the case of FOG and it frequently becomes dopamine resistant. Recent studies have suggested that pre-frontal cortex (PFC) dysfunction contributes to FOG; however, most previous findings provide only indirect evidence. To better understand the role of the PFC, we aimed to investigate the impact of high frequency, deep, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (drTMS) of the medial PFC on FOG and its mediators. Nine patients with advanced PD participated in a randomized, cross-over exploratory study. We applied drTMS over the medial PFC for 16 weeks, with real and sham conditions; each condition included an intensive (i.e., 3 times a week) phase and a maintenance (once a week) phase. Scores on a FOG-provoking test, the motor part of the Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale, and gait variability significantly improved after real drTMS, but not after the sham condition. Self-report of FOG severity and cognitive scores did not improve. Due to discomfort and pain during treatment, two patients dropped out and the study was halted. These initial findings support the cause-and-effect role of the pre-frontal cortex in FOG among patients with PD. Due to the small sample size, findings should be interpreted cautiously. Further studies are needed to more fully assess the role of the medial PFC in the underlying mechanism of FOG and the possibility of using non-invasive brain stimulation to modify FOG.

Keywords: Deep TMS; Freezing of gait; Non-invasive brain stimulation; Parkinson’s disease; rTMS.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Female
  • Gait / physiology
  • Gait Disorders, Neurologic / diagnostic imaging
  • Gait Disorders, Neurologic / etiology*
  • Gait Disorders, Neurologic / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parkinson Disease / complications*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Self Report
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome