Efficacy of prefrontal theta-burst stimulation in refractory depression: A randomized sham-controlled study

Cheng Ta Li, Mu Hong Chen, Chi Hung Juan, Hsiang Hsuan Huang, Li Fen Chen, Jen Chuen Hsieh, Pei Chi Tu, Ya Mei Bai, Shin Jen Tsai, Ying Chiao Lee, Tung Ping Su

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

219 Scopus citations


Theta-burst transcranial magnetic stimulation could modulate cortical excitability and has the potential to treat refractory depression. However, there has been a lack of large randomized studies of the antidepressant efficacy of different forms of theta-burst stimulation, such as intermittent and continuous theta-burst stimulation. A randomized sham-controlled study was conducted to investigate antidepressant efficacy of theta-burst stimulation and to compare efficacy among left-prefrontal intermittent theta-burst stimulation, right-prefrontal continuous theta-burst stimulation and a combination of them in patients showing different levels of antidepressant refractoriness. A group of 60 treatment-refractory patients with recurrent major depressive disorder were recruited and randomized to four groups (Group A: continuous theta-burst stimulation; Group B: intermittent theta-burst stimulation; Group C: a combination of continuous and intermittent theta-burst stimulation; and Group D: sham theta-burst stimulation; 15 patients were included in each group). After 2 weeks of theta-burst stimulation treatment, depression improved in all groups. Groups B and C had better antidepressant responses (as reflected by % decreases in depression score) than Groups A and D (P = 0.001, post hoc analysis: B > A, B > D, C > A, and C > D), even after controlling for age and refractoriness scores. The mean antidepressant effect was highest in Group C and followed by that in Group B. Additionally, a significant placebo effect was found in patients with low refractoriness; this disappeared in patients with moderate-to-high refractoriness. A significant correlation existed between refractoriness scores and treatment responses. Treatment refractoriness was a significant factor negatively predicting efficacy of theta-burst stimulation (P = 0.039). This randomized sham-controlled study demonstrated that active theta-burst stimulation is a well-tolerated form of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation and has good antidepressant efficacy, particularly in depressed subjects within a certain range of treatment refractoriness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2088-2098
Number of pages11
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2014


  • antidepressant efficacy
  • brain stimulation
  • sham response
  • theta-burst stimulation
  • treatment-refractory depression


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