January 16, 2021

Selecting stimulation intensity in repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation studies: A systematic review between 1991 and 2020

Background: Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is an increasingly used, non-invasive brain stimulation technique in neuroscience research and clinical practice with a broad spectrum of suggested applications. Among other parameters, the choice of stimulus intensity and intracranial electric field strength substantially impact rTMS outcome. This review provides a systematic overview of the intensity selection approaches and stimulation intensities used in human rTMS studies. We also examined whether studies report sufficient information to reproduce stimulus intensities in basic science research models. Methods: We performed a systematic review by focusing on original studies published between 1991 and 2020. We included conventional (e.g., 1 Hz or 10 Hz) and patterned protocols (e.g., continuous or intermittent theta burst stimulation). We identified 3,784 articles in total, and we manually processed a representative portion (20%) of randomly selected articles. Results: The majority of the analyzed studies (90% of entries) used the motor threshold (MT) approach and stimulation intensities from 80 to 120% of the MT. For continuous and intermittent theta burst stimulation, the most frequent stimulation intensity was 80% of the active MT. Most studies (92% of entries) did not report sufficient information to reproduce the stimulation intensity. Only a minority of studies (1.03% of entries) estimated the rTMS-induced electric field strengths. Conclusion: We formulate easy-to-follow recommendations to help scientists and clinicians report relevant information on stimulation intensity. Future standardized reporting guidelines may facilitate the use of basic science approaches aiming at better understanding the molecular, cellular, and neuronal mechanisms of rTMS.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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