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Wilson, M. T., & St George, L. (2016). Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation: A Call for Better Data. Frontiers in Neural Circuits, 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fncir.2016.00057
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/11343
Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) is increasingly used to treat stroke, Parkinson's disease and depression (Fregni et al., 2005; Loo and Mitchell, 2005; Hallet, 2007; O'Reardon et al., 2007; Ridding and Rothwell, 2007). rTMS uses bursts of magnetic pulses to change the excitability and connection strengths of cortical neurons. However, the evidence to inform clinical application is highly inconsistent (Thut and Pascual-Leone, 2010; Hamada et al., 2013) and substantially based on trial and error. Systematic theory is lacking. Typically, in rTMS research, measurements of motor-evoked potential (MEP) are made, often in terms of the strength of the MEP and the length of the cortical silent period that follows. However, the MEP is probably a poor and certainly an indirect measure of changes in the brain (Nicolo et al., 2015), clouding our understanding of rTMS mechanisms. In practice, therefore, particular amplitudes and timing of pulses in an rTMS sequence are selected because they show promise in small subsets of people. However, even basics such as the sign of any change in the outcome measure (e.g., does the MEP increase or decrease?) is debated. Many results show a wide spread in responses. It has become common to talk about “responders” and “non-responders” although evidence for a binary distinction in these two groups is lacking—in reality there is usually a continuum of response often including potentiation in some and depression in others (Nettekoven et al., 2015). Moreover, Héroux et al. (2015) provide evidence that the irreproducibility of results may be due to small sample sizes, unscientific screening of subjects and data, and selective reporting of results.
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