Accelerated Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to Treat Major Depression: The Past, Present, and Future

SOURCE: Harvard Review of Psychiatry. 31(3):142-161, 2023 May-Jun 01.

AUTHORS: Chen L; Klooster DCW; Tik M; Thomas EHX; Downar J; Fitzgerald PB; Williams NR; Baeken C

ABSTRACT: Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is an effective and evidence-based therapy for treatment-resistant major depressive disorder. A conventional course of rTMS applies 20-30 daily sessions over 4-6 weeks. The schedule of rTMS delivery can be accelerated by applying multiple stimulation sessions per day, which reduces the duration of a treatment course with a predefined number of sessions. Accelerated rTMS reduces time demands, improves clinical efficiency, and potentially induces faster onset of antidepressant effects. However, considerable heterogeneity exists across study designs. Stimulation protocols vary in parameters such as the stimulation target, frequency, intensity, number of pulses applied per session or over a course of treatment, and duration of intersession intervals. In this article, clinician-researchers and neuroscientists who have extensive research experience in accelerated rTMS synthesize a consensus based on two decades of investigation and development, from early studies (“Past”) to contemporaneous theta burst stimulation, a time-efficient form of rTMS gaining acceptance in clinical settings (“Present”). We propose descriptive nomenclature for accelerated rTMS, recommend avenues to optimize therapeutic and efficiency potential, and suggest using neuroimaging and electrophysiological biomarkers to individualize treatment protocols (“Future”). Overall, empirical studies show that accelerated rTMS protocols are well tolerated and not associated with serious adverse effects. Importantly, the antidepressant efficacy of accelerated rTMS appears comparable to conventional, once daily rTMS protocols. Whether accelerated rTMS induces antidepressant effects more quickly remains uncertain. On present evidence, treatment protocols incorporating high pulse dose and multiple treatments per day show promise and improved efficacy.

LINK TO FULL ARTICLE: Available 01/01/2024