Network Mechanisms of Clinical Response to Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder

Biol Psychiatry. 2018 Feb 1;83(3):263-272. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2017.07.021. Epub 2017 Aug 8.


Background: Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy can modulate pathological neural network functional connectivity in major depressive disorder (MDD). Posttraumatic stress disorder is often comorbid with MDD, and symptoms of both disorders can be alleviated with TMS therapy. This is the first study to evaluate TMS-associated changes in connectivity in patients with comorbid posttraumatic stress disorder and MDD.

Methods: Resting-state functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging was acquired before and after TMS therapy in 33 adult outpatients in a prospective open trial. TMS at 5 Hz was delivered, in up to 40 daily sessions, to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Analyses used a priori seeds relevant to TMS, posttraumatic stress disorder, or MDD (subgenual anterior cingulate cortex [sgACC], left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and basolateral amygdala) to identify imaging predictors of response and to evaluate clinically relevant changes in connectivity after TMS, followed by leave-one-out cross-validation. Imaging results were explored using data-driven multivoxel pattern activation.

Results: More negative pretreatment connectivity between the sgACC and the default mode network predicted clinical improvement, as did more positive amygdala-to-ventromedial prefrontal cortex connectivity. After TMS, symptom reduction was associated with reduced connectivity between the sgACC and the default mode network, left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and insula, and reduced connectivity between the hippocampus and the salience network. Multivoxel pattern activation confirmed seed-based predictors and correlates of treatment outcomes.

Conclusions: These results highlight the central role of the sgACC, default mode network, and salience network as predictors of TMS response and suggest their involvement in mechanisms of action. Furthermore, this work indicates that there may be network-based biomarkers of clinical response relevant to these commonly comorbid disorders.

Trial registration: NCT02273063.

Keywords: Default mode network; Major depressive disorder; Posttraumatic stress disorder; Resting-state functional connectivity; Subgenual anterior cingulate; Transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Connectome / methods*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / physiopathology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome

Associated data