Day-to-day variability in motor threshold during rTMS treatment for depression: Clinical implications

Gonçalo Cotovio, Albino J. Oliveira-Maia, Carter Paul, Francisco Faro Viana, Daniel Rodrigues da Silva, Carolina Seybert, Adam P. Stern, Alvaro Pascual-Leone, Daniel Z. Press

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17 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: When repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is used to treat medication refractory depression, the treatment pulse intensity is individualized according to motor threshold (MT). This measure is often acquired only on the first day of treatment, as per the protocol currently approved by Food and Drug Administration. Objective: Here, we aimed to assess daily MT variability across an rTMS treatment course and simulate the effects of different schedules of MT assessment on treatment intensity. Methods: We conducted a naturalistic retrospective study with 374 patients from a therapeutic rTMS program for depression that measures MT daily. Results: For each patient, in almost half the TMS sessions, MT varied on average more than 5% as compared to the baseline MT acquired in the first treatment day. Such variability was only minimally impacted by having different TMS technicians acquiring MT in different days. In a smaller cohort of healthy individuals, we confirmed that the motor hotspot localization method, a critical step for accurate MT assessment, was stable in different days, arguing that daily MT variability reflects physiological variability, rather than an artifact of measurement error. Finally, in simulations of the effect of one-time MT measurement, we found that half of sessions would have been 5% or more above or below target intensity, with almost 5% of sessions 25% above target intensity. The simulated effects of weekly MT measurements were significantly improved. Conclusions: In conclusion, MT varies significantly across days, not fully dependent on methods of MT acquisition. This finding may have important implications for therapeutic rTMS practice regarding safety and suggests that regular MT assessments, daily or at least weekly, would ameliorate the effect.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1118-1125
Number of pages8
JournalBrain Stimulation
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021


  • Depression
  • Resting motor threshold
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation
  • Variability


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