Brain oscillation-synchronized stimulation of the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in depression using real-time EEG-triggered TMS

Brain Stimul. 2020 Jan-Feb;13(1):197-205. doi: 10.1016/j.brs.2019.10.007. Epub 2019 Oct 12.


Background: Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) of the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) is an effective treatment for major depressive disorder (MDD), but response rates are low and effect sizes small. Synchronizing TMS pulses with instantaneous brain oscillations can reduce variability and increase efficacy of TMS-induced plasticity.

Objective: To study whether brain oscillation-synchronized rTMS is feasible, safe and has neuromodulatory effects when targeting the DLPFC of patients with MDD.

Methods: Using real-time EEG-triggered TMS we conducted a pseudo-randomized controlled single-session crossover trial of brain oscillation-synchronized rTMS of left DLPFC in 17 adult patients with antidepressant-resistant MDD. Stimulation conditions in separate sessions were: (1) rTMS triggered at the negative EEG peak of instantaneous alpha oscillations (alpha-synchronized rTMS), (2) a variation of intermittent theta-burst stimulation (modified iTBS), and (3) a random alpha phase control condition.

Results: Triggering TMS at the negative peak of instantaneous alpha oscillations by real-time analysis of the electrode F5 EEG signal was successful in 15 subjects. Two subjects reported mild transient discomfort at the site of stimulation during stimulation; no serious adverse events were reported. Alpha-synchronized rTMS, but not modified iTBS or the random alpha phase control condition, reduced resting-state alpha activity in left DLPFC and increased TMS-induced beta oscillations over frontocentral channels.

Conclusions: Alpha-synchronized rTMS of left DLPFC is feasible, safe and has specific single-session neuromodulatory effects in patients with antidepressant-resistant MDD. Future studies need to further elucidate the mechanisms, optimize the parameters and investigate the therapeutic potential and efficacy of brain oscillation-synchronized rTMS in MDD.

Keywords: Alpha oscillation; Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex; Electroencephalography; Major depressive disorder; Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation; Synchronization.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alpha Rhythm
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy
  • Electroencephalography / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / adverse effects
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods*