To review repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) as a mode of therapy for depression.
The following aspects of rTMS were reviewed and compared with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT): history, basic principles, technical considerations, possible mode of action, safety, adverse effects, and effects on mood in both healthy individuals and those suffering from bipolar disorder (BD) or depression.
rTMS may selectively increase or decrease neuronal activity over discrete brain regions. As a result of this focused intervention with TMS, the potential for unwanted side effects is substantially reduced, compared with ECT. In open trials, rTMS and ECT are reported to be equally efficacious for patients having depression without psychosis, but the therapeutic benefits reported in double-blind sham-rTMS controlled trials are more modest.
The antidepressant and antimanic effects of rTMS depend on technical considerations such as stimulus frequency, intensity, and magnetic coil placement, which may not yet be optimized. Biological heterogeneity among the patients treated with rTMS may also contribute to differing efficacy across clinical trials. rTMS may possess tremendous potential as a treatment for mood disorder, but this has not yet been realized. rTMS must still be regarded as an experimental intervention requiring further refinement.