Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation for the Treatment of Executive Function Deficits in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Clinical Trial Approach
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OBJECTIVE: Executive function (EF) deficits in patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are ubiquitous and understudied. Further, there are no effective, neuroscience-based treatments to address this impairing feature of ASD. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) has demonstrated promise in addressing EF deficits in adult neuropsychiatric disorders. This article will outline the design of a novel randomized-controlled trial of bilateral, 20 Hz, rTMS applied to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) for treatment of EF deficits in ASD that is currently ongoing. We describe prior therapeutic rTMS research for ASD and prior rTMS trials targeting EFs in adult neuropsychiatric disorders. A neurophysiological rationale for rTMS treatment of EF deficits in ASD is presented. METHODS: An ongoing protocol will enroll participants aged 16-35 with ASD and no intellectual disability. Psychotropic medications will be continued during the 4-week trial of active 20 Hz versus sham rTMS applied to the DLPFC. Twenty, active treatment sessions consisting of 25 stimulation trains at a 90% motor threshold will be administered. The primary outcome measure is the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB) spatial working memory task. At present, recruitment, enrollment, and treatment within the described clinical trial are ongoing. CONCLUSIONS: EF deficits are common and impairing symptoms of ASD. There are no evidence-based treatments for EF deficits in ASD. The protocol described here will provide important preliminary data on the feasibility and efficacy of 20 Hz rTMS to DLPFC for EF deficits in ASD.
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