Transcranial magnetic stimulation of the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex inhibits medial orbitofrontal activity in smokers

Am J Addict. 2017 Dec;26(8):788-794. doi: 10.1111/ajad.12621. Epub 2017 Sep 12.


Background and objective: Several studies have shown that repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), applied to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), can reduce cue-elicited craving in smokers. Currently, the mechanism of this effect is unknown. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore the effect of a single treatment of rTMS on cortical and sub-cortical neural activity in non-treatment seeking nicotine-dependent participants.

Methods: We conducted a randomized, counterbalanced, crossover trial in which participants attended two experimental visits separated by at least 1 week. On the first visit, participants received either active, or sham rTMS (10 Hz, 5 s-on, 10 s-off, 100% motor threshold, 3,000 pulses) over the left DLPFC, and on the second visit they received the opposite condition (active or sham). Cue craving fMRI scans were completed before and after each rTMS session.

Results: A total of 11 non-treatment seeking nicotine-dependent cigarette smokers were enrolled in the study [six female, average age 39.7 ± 13.2, average cigarettes per day 17.3 ± 5.9]. Active rTMS decreased activity in the contralateral medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC) and ipsilateral nucleus accumbens (NAc) compared to sham rTMS.

Conclusions: This preliminary data suggests that one session of rTMS applied to the DLPFC decreases brain activity in the NAc and mOFC in smokers.

Scientific significance: rTMS may exert its anti-craving effect by decreasing activity in the NAc and mOFC in smokers. Despite a small sample size, these findings warrant future rTMS/fMRI studies in addictions. (Am J Addict 2017;26:788-794).

Keywords: DLPFC; TMS; cue craving; fMRI; nicotine dependence; reward network.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Craving / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Smokers / psychology*
  • Smoking / physiopathology*
  • Smoking Cessation / methods*
  • Smoking Cessation / psychology*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / rehabilitation*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods*
  • Young Adult