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J Neural Eng. 2011 Feb;8(1):016007. doi: 10.1088/1741-2560/8/1/016007. Epub 2011 Jan 19.

Electric field strength and focality in electroconvulsive therapy and magnetic seizure therapy: a finite element simulation study.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University, Box 3950 DUMC, Durham, NC 27710, USA.


We present the first computational study comparing the electric field induced by various electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and magnetic seizure therapy (MST) paradigms. Four ECT electrode configurations (bilateral, bifrontal, right unilateral, and focal electrically administered seizure therapy) and three MST coil configurations (circular, cap, and double cone) were modeled. The model incorporated a modality-specific neural activation threshold. ECT (0.3 ms pulse width) and MST induced the maximum electric field of 2.1-2.5 V cm⁻¹ and 1.1-2.2 V cm⁻¹ in the brain, corresponding to 6.2-7.2 times and 1.2-2.3 times the neural activation threshold, respectively. The MST electric field is more confined to the superficial cortex compared to ECT. The brain volume stimulated was much larger with ECT (up to 100%) than with MST (up to 8.2%). MST with the double-cone coil was the most focal, and bilateral ECT was the least focal. Our results suggest a possible biophysical explanation of the reduced side effects of MST compared to ECT. Our results also indicate that the conventional ECT pulse amplitude (800-900 mA) is much higher than necessary for seizure induction. Reducing the ECT pulse amplitude should be explored as a potential means of diminishing side effects.

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