iTBS of Cerebellar Vermis Enhances Fronto-Cerebellar Resting State Functional Connectivity in Schizophrenia With Predominant Negative Symptoms: A Randomized Controlled Trial

SOURCE: Schizophrenia Research. 238:108-120, 2021 12.

AUTHORS: Basavaraju R; Ithal D; Thanki MV; Ramalingaiah AH; Thirthalli J; Reddy RP; Brady RO Jr; Halko MA; Bolo NR; Keshavan MS; Pascual-Leone A; Mehta UM;
Kesavan M

OBJECTIVE: Negative symptoms of schizophrenia are substantially disabling and treatment resistant. Novel treatments like repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) need to be examined for the same using the experimental medicine approach that incorporates tests of mechanism of action in addition to clinical efficacy in trials.

METHODS: Study was a double-blind, parallel, randomized, sham-controlled trial recruiting schizophrenia with at least a moderate severity of negative symptoms. Participants were randomized to real or sham intermittent theta burst stimulation (iTBS) under MRI-guided neuro-navigation, targeting the cerebellar vermis area VII-B, at a stimulus intensity of 100% active motor threshold, two sessions/day for
five days (total = 6000 pulses). Assessments were conducted at baseline (T0), day-6 (T1) and week-6 (T2) after initiation of intervention. Main outcomes were, a) Scale for the Assessment of Negative Symptoms (SANS) score (T0, T1, T2), b) fronto-cerebellar resting state functional connectivity (RSFC) (T0, T1).

RESULTS: Thirty participants were recruited in each arm. Negative symptoms improved in both arms (p < 0.001) but was not significantly different between the two arms (p = 0.602). RSFC significantly increased between the cerebellar vermis and the right inferior frontal gyrus (pcluster-FWER = 0.033), right pallidum (pcluster-FWER = 0.042) and right frontal pole (pcluster-FWER = 0.047) in the real arm with no change in the sham arm.

CONCLUSION: Cerebellar vermal iTBS engaged a target belonging to the class of cerebello-subcortical-cortical networks, implicated in negative symptoms of schizophrenia. However, this did not translate to a superior clinical efficacy. Future trials should employ enhanced midline cerebellar TMS stimulation parameters for longer durations that can potentiate and translate biological changes into clinical effects.