Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation in the Treatment of Resistant Depression: Changes of Specific Neurotransmitter Precursor Amino Acids


Journal of Neural Transmission. 128(8):1225-1231, 2021 Aug.

Leblhuber F; Geisler S; Ehrlich D; Steiner K; Reibnegger G; Fuchs D; Kurz K

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) for treatment-resistant major depression offers an alternative therapy, since more than every third patient is not responding to adequate antidepressive treatment. In this interventional study safety, symptom development and changes of serum concentrations of neurotransmitter precursor amino acids, of immune activation and inflammation markers, of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), nitrite as well as of salivary amylase were measured before and after a frontal polar cortex stimulation using rTMS as add-on treatment in 38 patients with treatment-resistant depression. Out of these, 17 patients received sham stimulation as a control. Treatment was well tolerated: with the exception of one patient of the verum group, who described discomfort during the second treatment, no serious adverse effects were observed. Improvement of depression with a significant decrease in the HAMD-7 scale (p = 0.001) was found in patients treated with rTMS, but not in sham-treated patients. Furthermore, serum phenylalanine and tyrosine dropped significantly (p = 0.03 and p = 0.027, respectively) in rTMS-treated patients. The kynurenine to tryptophan ratio (Kyn/Trp) tended to decrease under rTMS (p = 0.07). In addition, associations between concentrations of BDNF and neopterin as well as serum nitrite levels were found in patients after rTMS treatment, which indicates an influence of immune regulatory circuits on BDNF levels. In the sham-treated patients, no changes of biomarker concentrations were observed. Results show that rTMS is effective in the treatment of resistant depression. rTMS appears to influence the enzyme phenylalanine hydroxylase, which plays a central role in the biosynthesis of neurotransmitter precursors tyrosine and dihydroxyphenylalanine (DOPA).