Prefrontal rTMS for treating depression: Location and intensity results from the OPT-TMS multi-site clinical trial

Kevin A. Johnson, Mirza Baig, Dave Ramsey, Sarah H. Lisanby, David Avery, William M. McDonald, Xingbao Li, Elisabeth R. Bernhardt, David R. Haynor, Paul E. Holtzheimer, Harold A. Sackeim, Mark S. George, Ziad Nahas

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79 Scopus citations


Background: Motor cortex localization and motor threshold determination often guide Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) placement and intensity settings for non-motor brain stimulation. However, anatomic variability results in variability of placement and effective intensity. Objective: Post-study analysis of the OPT-TMS Study reviewed both the final positioning and the effective intensity of stimulation (accounting for relative prefrontal scalp-cortex distances). Methods: We acquired MRI scans of 185 patients in a multi-site trial of left prefrontal TMS for depression. Scans had marked motor sites (localized with TMS) and marked prefrontal sites (5 cm anterior of motor cortex by the "5 cm rule"). Based on a visual determination made before the first treatment, TMS therapy occurred either at the 5 cm location or was adjusted 1 cm forward. Stimulation intensity was 120% of resting motor threshold. Results: The "5 cm rule" would have placed stimulation in premotor cortex for 9% of patients, which was reduced to 4% with adjustments. We did not find a statistically significant effect of positioning on remission, but no patients with premotor stimulation achieved remission (0/7). Effective stimulation ranged from 93 to 156% of motor threshold, and no seizures were induced across this range. Patients experienced remission with effective stimulation intensity ranging from 93 to 146% of motor threshold, and we did not find a significant effect of effective intensity on remission. Conclusions: Our data indicates that individualized positioning methods are useful to reduce variability in placement. Stimulation at 120% of motor threshold, unadjusted for scalp-cortex distances, appears safe for a broad range of patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)108-117
Number of pages10
JournalBrain Stimulation
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Sarah H. Lisanby: Dr. Lisanby reports no speaking fees and no advisory board work. She reports research grants from Advanced Neuromodulation Systems/St Jude, Brainsway, Cyberonics (past), Neuronetics (past), and equipment support from Magstim and Magventure. Columbia University has a patent application on TMS technology (unrelated to this manuscript) on which Dr. Lisanby is a co-inventor but receives no proceeds.


  • Depression
  • Imaging (MRI)
  • Motor cortex
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)


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