Low-Frequency rTMS Inhibits the Anti-Depressive Effect of ECT: A Pilot Study

SOURCE: Acta Neuropsychiatrica. 32(6):328-338, 2020 Dec.

AUTHORS: Buchholtz PE; Ashkanian M; Hjerrild S; Hauptmann LK; Devantier TA; Jensen P; Wissing S; Thorgaard MV; Bjerager L; Lund J; Alro AJ; Speed MS; Brund RBK; Videbech P

Low-frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) of the prefrontal cortex has been shown to have a statistically and clinically significant anti-depressant effect. The present pilot study was carried out to investigate if right prefrontal low-frequency rTMS as an add-on to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) accelerates the anti-depressant effect and reduces cognitive side effects.

METHODS: In this randomised, controlled, double-blind study, thirty-five patients with major depression were allocated to ECT+placebo or ECT+low-frequency right prefrontal rTMS. The severity of depression was evaluated during the course using the Hamilton scale for depression (the 17-item as well as the 6-item scale) and the major depression inventory (MDI). Furthermore, neuropsychological assessment of cognitive function was carried out.

RESULTS: The study revealed no significant difference between the two groups for any of the outcomes, but with a visible trend to lower scores for MDI after treatment in the placebo group. The negative impact of ECT on neurocognitive functions was short-lived, and scores on logical memory were significantly improved compared to baseline 4 weeks after last treatment. The ECT-rTMS group revealed generally less impairment of cognitive functions than the ECT-placebo group.

CONCLUSION: The addition of low-frequency rTMS as an add-on to ECT treatment did not result in an accelerated response. On the contrary, the results suggest that low-frequency rTMS could inhibit the anti-depressant effect of ECT