The Effects of Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Antidepressant Response on Cold Cognition: A Single-Arm Prospective Longitudinal Study

Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 17 (pp 1647-1658), 2021. Date of Publication: 2021.

Hopman H.J.; Choy H.Y.; Ho W.S.; Lu H.; Wong W.H.O.; Chan S.M.S.

Purpose: The cognitive neuropsychological model of depression suggests that the cognitive deficits observed in depressed subjects are the result of attenuated top-down cognitive control resulting in increased bottom-up emotional processing. Remediation of cognitive impairments in cold cognition has been proposed as a valuable treatment for depression. The study aimed to examine the effects of clinical response to repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) on cold cognition over the course of 8 weeks in medication-refractory depressed subjects.

Twenty-two medication-refractory depressed subjects received twenty sessions of high-frequency rTMS targeting the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, one of the key nodes of the cognitive control network. Cold cognition and antidepressant treatment response were monitored at baseline, week 2, 4 and 8. Clinical response was defined as >=50% reduction in Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale score at week 8. Longitudinal changes in cold cognition were modeled using (generalized) linear mixed models. It was hypothesized that the excitatory effects of rTMS would improve cognition in the domains of executive function, memory, and attention. Additionally, responders were expected to show larger cognitive improvements than nonresponders.

A decrease in median latency was observed on a task that measured executive function, irrespective of treatment response status. Further, responders showed significantly larger improvements in A-Prime (the ability to detect target sequences) on a sustained attention task. Post hoc analysis indicated higher levels of rumination in non-responders.

Our findings suggest that distractions during tasks with low perceptual complexity affected nonresponders disproportionately possibly due to higher rumination levels. Overall, cold cognition in medication-resistant depressed subjects was minimally affected by rTMS, substantiating the safety of rTMS treatment.

The sample size was small, and the study did not include a control group.