Influence of Theta-Burst Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Over the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex on Emotion Processing in Healthy Volunteers


Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience. 20(6):1278-1293, 2020 12.

Dumitru A; Rocchi L; Saini F; Rothwell JC; Roiser JP; David AS; Richieri RM; Lewis G; Lewis G

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation is a potential treatment option for depression, with the newer intermittent theta-burst stimulation (iTBS) protocols providing brief intervention. However, their mechanism of action remains unclear. We investigated the hypothesis that iTBS influences brain circuits involved in emotion processing that are also affected by antidepressants. We predicted that iTBS would lead to changes in performance on emotion-processing tasks. We investigated the effects of intermittent TBS (iTBS) over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) on the processing of emotional information (word recall and categorization, facial emotion recognition, and decision-making) in 28 healthy volunteers by contrasting these effects with those of sham stimulation. Each volunteer received iTBS and sham stimulation in a blinded crossover design and completed the emotion-processing tasks before and after stimulation. Compared to sham stimulation, iTBS increased positive affective processing for word recall, yet had an unexpected effect on facial emotion recognition for happy and sad faces. There was no evidence of an effect on decision-making or word categorization. We found support for our hypothesis that iTBS influences emotion processing, though some changes were not in the expected direction. These findings suggest a possible common mechanism of action between iTBS and antidepressants, and a complex neural circuitry involved in emotion processing that could potentially be tapped into via brain stimulation. Future research should investigate the neural correlates of emotion processing more closely to inform future iTBS protocols.