February 13th, 2012

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is a technique used to enhance functionality in specific impaired brain regions. Recently, research has examined how rTMS could help reduce auditory hallucinations (AH) in individuals suffering with schizophrenia. AH is a rather common symptom of the illness, and nearly one-fourth of all clients with schizophrenia  who experience AH do not respond to traditional treatments. Because AH is a result of an overactive temporoparietal cortex, rTMS could be a promising treatment because it helps reduce the level of activity in that region of the brain.

Existing research on rTMS has shown that not all individuals who receive rTMS have equally positive outcomes. In order to determine why, Paula M. Gromann of the Department of Psychosis Studies at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College in London explored how rTMS specifically affected impaired brain regions, namely, the prefrontal and temporal areas, regions that are commonly compromised in those struggling with schizophrenia. For her study, Gromann analyzed magnetic resonance imaging data gathered from 11 participants who received rTMS and 11 who received a mock rTMS. All of the participants were free of any mental health diagnosis at the time of the study.

Gromann discovered that the participants who received the rTMS had a stronger level of functioning between their prefrontal and temporal regions than those who received the mock stimulation. Although rTMS was originally targeted for the treatment of AH, the results of this study and other supporting evidence suggest that rTMS may be a viable treatment for schizophrenia clients who have AH as well. Gromann and her team believe that if rTMS works to increase the neural connectivity, the interaction between these two critical regions of the brain could be strengthened. Gromann said, “In addition to reducing the hyperactivity in temporal cortices during hallucinations, rTMS may also exert its beneficial effects on AH by facilitating the functional connectivity between the temporoparietal and frontal cortexes.” She noted that these findings have significant clinical implications and should be examined in future studies to determine how rTMS can best relieve auditory hallucinations in schizophrenic clients.

Gromann, P. M., Tracy D. K., Giampietro, V., Brammer, M. J., Krabbendam, L., Shergill, S. S. Examining Frontotemporal Connectivity and RTMS in Healthy Controls: Implications for Auditory Hallucinations in Schizophrenia. Neuropsychology 26.1 (2012): 127-32. Print.