Background: Lesion and neuroimaging studies suggest that left prefrontal lobe dysfunction is pathophysiologically linked to depression. Rapid-rate transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) to prefrontal structures has a lateralised effect on mood in normal volunteers, and several preliminary studies suggest a beneficial effect of rTMS on depression. However, adequately controlled studies have not been conducted.
Methods: We have studied the effects of focal rTMS on the depressive symptoms in 17 patients with medication-resistant depression of psychotic subtype. The study was designed as a multiple cross-over, randomised placebo-controlled trial. Sham rTMS and stimulation of different cortical areas were used as controls.
Findings: Left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex rTMS resulted in a significant decrease in scores on the Hamilton depression rating scale HDRS (from 25.2 to 13.8) and the self-rated Beck questionnaire BQ (from 47.9 to 25.7). 11 of the 17 patients showed pronounced improvement that lasted for about 2 weeks after 5 days of daily rTMS sessions. No patient experienced any significant undesirable side-effects.
Interpretation: Our findings emphasise the role of the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in depression, and suggest that rTMS of the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex might become a safe, non-convulsive alternative to electroconvulsive treatment in depression.