Profiling rTMS: A Critical Response

SOURCE: Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. 55(4):355-365, 2021 04.

AUTHORS: Malhi GS; Bell E; Mannie Z; Bassett D; Boyce P; Hopwood M; Mulder R; Porter RJ; Singh AB; Lyndon B

ABSTRACT: This article is a detailed response to the criticisms levelled by the authors of an accompanying viewpoint, which claims that the positioning of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) in the 2020 Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) clinical practice guidelines for the management mood disorders (MDcpg2020) is incorrect. We, the authors of the MDcpg2020, strongly refute these assertions and argue that first we have determined the positioning of rTMS using the same criteria as those applied to other treatments for depression. Second, in accordance with National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines, the processes by which we have developed the MDcpg2020 have been guided by best practice and have been overseen throughout by the RANZCP. Third, our objective and detailed examination of the relevant research has shown that the evidence needed to support the positioning of rTMS alongside standard therapies for depression is severely deficient. And therefore, as a consequence, we set out clearly both our logic and reasoning with respect to interpreting rTMS data and outline our evidence-informed position in which rTMS remains a potential alternative therapy that can be considered in certain clinical circumstances once both suitable psychological and pharmacological treatments have been trialled. We also discuss why, until further research is conducted, rTMS is perhaps best regarded as an experimental therapy and an investigational tool, and to assist in this regard, we propose a framework for consideration by those conducting rTMS studies in the future. Thus, based on current knowledge, we conclude that rTMS does not have a sufficient evidence base to warrant recognition as a standard therapy for depression alongside established treatments such as psychological interventions, pharmacotherapy, and electroconvulsive therapy. Furthermore, there is no clinical profile for depressed patients that might benefit from rTMS and therefore tolerability alone is not good enough reason to promote rTMS in the management of major depression.