The relationship between brain oscillatory activity and therapeutic effectiveness of transcranial magnetic stimulation in the treatment of major depressive disorder. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. February 2013 Volume 7 Article 37
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is marked by disturbances in brain functional connectivity. This connectivity is modulated by rhythmic oscillations of brain electrical activity, which enable coordinated functions across brain regions. Oscillatory activity plays a central role in regulating thinking and memory, mood, cerebral blood flow, and neurotransmitter levels, and restoration of normal oscillatory patterns is associated with effective treatment of MDD. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is a robust treatment for MDD, but the mechanism of action (MOA) of its benefits for mood disorders remains incompletely understood. Benefits of rTMS have been tied to enhanced neuroplasticity in specific brain pathways. We summarize here the evidence that rTMS entrains and resets thalamocortical oscillators, normalizes regulation and facilitates reemergence of intrinsic cerebral rhythms, and through this mechanism restores normal brain function. This entrainment and resetting may be a critical step in engendering neuroplastic changes and the antidepressant effects of rTMS. It may be possible to modify the method of rTMS administration to enhance this MOA and achieve better antidepressant effectiveness. We propose that rTMS can be administered: (1) synchronized to a patient’s individual alpha frequency (IAF), or synchronized rTMS (sTMS); (2) as a low magnetic field strength sinusoidal waveform; and, (3) broadly to multiple brain areas simultaneously. We present here the theory and evidence indicating that these modifications could enhance the therapeutic effectiveness of rTMS for the treatment of MDD.