Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder


Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology. 11 (no pagination), 2021. Date of Publication: 2021.

Petrosino N.J.; Cosmo C.; Berlow Y.A.; Zandvakili A.; van ‘t Wout-Frank M.; Philip N.S.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating psychiatric disorder. While current treatment options are effective for some, many individuals fail to respond to first-line psychotherapies and pharmacotherapy. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has emerged over the past several decades as a noninvasive neuromodulatory intervention for psychiatric disorders including depression, with mounting evidence for its safety, tolerability, and efficacy in treating PTSD. While several meta-analyses of TMS for PTSD have been published to date showing large effect sizes on PTSD overall, there is marked variability between studies, making it difficult to draw simple conclusions about how best to treat patients. The following review summarizes over 20 years of the existing literature on TMS as a PTSD treatment, and includes nine randomized controlled trials and many other prospective studies of TMS monotherapy, as well as five randomized controlled trials investigating TMS combined with psychotherapy. While the majority of studies utilize repetitive TMS targeted to the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) at low frequency (1 Hz) or high frequency (10 or 20 Hz), others have used alternative frequencies, targeted other regions (most commonly the left DLPFC), or trialed different stimulation protocols utilizing newer TMS modalities such as synchronized TMS and theta-burst TMS (TBS). Although it is encouraging that positive outcomes have been shown, there is a paucity of studies directly comparing available approaches. Biomarkers, such as functional imaging and electroencephalography, were seldomly incorporated yet remain crucial for advancing our knowledge of how to predict and monitor treatment response and for understanding mechanism of action of TMS in this population. Effects on PTSD are often sustained for up to 2-3 months, but more long-term studies are needed in order to understand and predict duration of response. In short, while TMS appears safe and effective for PTSD, important steps are needed to operationalize optimal approaches for patients suffering from this disorder.