Researchers have shown what happens to the brain when treated for depression known as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation
The findings of the research were published in the ‘American Journal of Psychiatry’ by a collaborative effort across the Centre for Brain Health, including DMCBH researchers Dr Sophia Frangou, Dr Rebecca Todd, and Dr Erin MacMillan, as well as members of the UBC MRI Research Centre including Laura Barlow at the University of British Columbia.
rTMS is a depression treatment typically used when other approaches — such as medications — haven’t been effective for a patient. It is estimated that approximately 40 per cent of people with major depression do not respond to antidepressants.
During an rTMS session, a device containing an electromagnetic coil is placed against a patient’s scalp. The device then painlessly delivers a magnetic pulse that stimulates nerve cells in a region of the brain involved in mood control — called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
Although proven to be effective, the mechanisms behind how rTMS affects the brain have not been well understood.
“When we first started this research, the question we were asking was very simple: we wanted to know what happens to the brain when rTMS treatment is being delivered,” said Dr Fidel Vila-Rodriguez, an assistant professor in UBC’s department of psychiatry and researcher at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health (DMCBH).
To answer this question, Dr Vila-Rodriguez and his team delivered one round of rTMS to patients while they were inside a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. Since the MRI can measure brain activity, the researchers were able to see in real-time what changes were happening in the brain.