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- 17 August 2020

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

TMS is a non-invasive neuromodulation technique increasingly used to treat a variety of neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Find out what TMS is, how it works, and what its applications are.

Description and History of TMS

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive neuromodulation technique that employs a magnetic field to stimulate or inhibit specific areas of the brain.

TMS was originally developed in the 1980s as a diagnostic technique to study the brain function. In those years, TMS found extensive use in hospitals and outpatient facilities for diagnostic purposes. It was not until 1985, thanks to the contribution of Anthony Barker (University of Sheffield, UK), that the revolutionary potential of this technique when used for clinical purposes began to be discovered (Barker et al., 1985).

Over the past few decades, research on TMS has flourished, leading to its increasing use as a treatment method for a wide range of neurological and psychiatric disorders. These include Depression, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Addictions.

Unfortunately, specialized TMS centers have only started to emerge in Italy in recent years. In contrast, Dr. Stefano Pallanti has been utilizing Neuromodulation Therapies since 2005 ― particularly Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) and transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) ― proving to be a true pioneer in this field.

How does TMS work?

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) operates on the principle of electromagnetic induction. A coil generates a magnetic pulse directed through the patient's skull to specific regions of the brain cortex. Upon reaching the person's brain, this pulse can generate an electric current that either stimulates or inhibits neuronal activity within the targeted brain region of interest.

Through this kind of stimulation, TMS facilitates the process of new nerve cells formation in the brain (neurogenesis), simultaneously promoting neuronal plasticity, the replication of neuronal cells, and the creation of new synaptic connections between them.


Firenze Neuroscienze #4 (Italian)

Learn more about the mechanism of action of Neuromodulation Therapies and the different techniques adopted by the Istituto di Neuroscienze for the treatment of several psychiatric and neurological disorders.

Read and download the fourth issue of our magazine Firenze Neuroscience for free!

Clinical applications of TMS

In recent decades, the use of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) has seen widespread adoption in the fields of neurology, clinical neurophysiology, and psychiatry, both for research purposes and clinical therapeutic applications.

In 2008, TMS received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States for the treatment of Treatment-Resistant Depression, followed by approval in 2018 for the treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Currently, extensive clinical studies are being conducted in various disciplines and for different conditions, contributing to the growing body of clinical evidence regarding the effectiveness of TMS.

Currently, TMS is widely employed for the treatment of a wide variety of disorders, including:

TMS Efficacy and Safety

A significant number of positive clinical outcomes accumulated over the past decades of research have extensively demonstrated the effectiveness of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) in treating a wide range of disorders, as highlighted in publications on PubMed — a major biomedical scientific literature search engine managed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) of the United States' National Institutes of Health (NIH) since 1949.

Specifically, TMS has proven highly effective in the treatment of Treatment-Resistant Depression, with response rates that can be greater than 80 percent.

Furthermore, in terms of its safety profile, TMS is generally considered a highly safe procedure, as the most common side effects are mild and transient (e.g., mild headaches).

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