News Release: Research , School of Medicine

May 5,  2010

Magnetic Stimulation Found to Help as an Antidepressant

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), major depression is the second leading cause of disability worldwide, behind heart disease. In any given one-year period, nearly 19 million American adults suffer from a depressive illness.

In a study reported in the May 2010 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers report on a non-invasive depression treatment, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), which stimulates the brain with a pulsed electromagnetic energy.

rTMS is administered through a device placed on top of the patient's head that delivers electromagnetic pulses over the left front part of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex. The pulses of magnetic energy generate electric currents in the brain and this stimulation can energize the prefrontal cortex and result in an improvement in depressive symptoms.

The clinical trial reported in the Archives found that rTMS produced significant antidepressant effects with few side effects, says study co-author William M. McDonald, MD, professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine, and J.B. Fuqua Chair in Late-Life Depression.

In the NIMH-funded study, active rTMS treatment resulted in the complete remission of depressive symptoms in 14 percent of antidepressant-resistant patients, compared to about 5 percent for a simulated treatment. While this treatment effect is statistically significant, McDonald and his collaborators are investigating new techniques using rTMS to boost the antidepressant response.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared an rTMS device for treatment of mildly treatment resistant depression in 2008, based on data submitted by the manufacturer. The field has been awaiting the results of the NIMH-funded multi-site trial to provide more definitive evidence of efficacy. These results support the clinical efficacy of rTMS but McDonald and his colleagues continue to advocate for further research in rTMS to improve the response rate in patients with depression.

Study authors include: Mark George, M.D., of the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston; Harold Sackeim, Ph.D., and Sarah Lisanby, M.D., of Columbia University, New York City; David Avery, M.D., of the University of Washington, Seattle; William McDonald, M.D., of Emory University, Atlanta.

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