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Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2003 Aug;168(4):359-76. Epub 2003 Jun 26.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation: studying motor neurophysiology of psychiatric disorders.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif, USA.



Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a noninvasive tool that directly stimulates cortical neurons by inducing magnetic and secondary electric fields. Traditionally TMS has been used to study the motor neurophysiology of healthy subjects and those with neurological disorders.


Given the known motor dysfunctions in many psychiatric disorders supplemental usage of TMS to study the underlying pathophysiology of certain psychiatric disorders and to assess treatment outcomes is underway. Such studies include examination of motor neuronal membrane, corticospinal and intracortical excitability. Our objective is to overview the past findings.


We review the past literature that used TMS as an assessment tool in psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, mood disorders, Tourette's syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and substance abuse.


While the findings are still preliminary due to small sample-size, inconsistent patient population (diagnosis, medication), differences in methodology between research groups, studies restricted to the motor region and possible lack of sensitivity and specificity, the studies are yielding interesting results which could potentially lead to trait- and state-markers of psychiatric disorders.


Future studies using TMS alone or in combination with other neuroimaging techniques promise to further expand the application of TMS from studies of motor excitability to higher cognitive functions.

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