A major clinical trial, conducted by experts at the England-based University of Nottingham and funded through a partnership between the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and the Medical Research Council (MRC), has delivered promising results in the treatment of severe depression. Published in Nature Medicine, the trial employed MRI-guided transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to precisely target areas of the brain, resulting in significant symptom improvement lasting at least six months.

In this clinical trial, participants experienced substantial enhancements in depression severity, anxiety, cognitive function, and overall quality of life over a 26-week period using MRI-guided TMS. This marks a substantial extension compared to the previously reported benefits that typically lasted only one to three months with conventional TMS.

TMS is an outpatient treatment involving magnetic pulses directed at the left side of the head, resulting in 20 sessions over a four-to-six-week period. By precisely targeting the brain’s stimulation area, researchers have achieved more enduring treatment outcomes.

Over two-thirds of participants responded positively to the treatment, with one-third experiencing a 50% reduction in symptoms, and a fifth achieving remission. This is a significant achievement, especially considering that the participants had previously failed to respond to two courses of antidepressants.

Neuronavigation, a computerized tracking system, was used in conjunction with MRI to ensure precise targeting of the stimulation area during all 20 treatment sessions. This approach enhances the consistency of stimulation and reduces variability, leading to minimal, short-lasting side effects.

Richard Morriss, PhD, lead for the Centre for Mood Disorders at the Institute of Mental Health at the University of Nottingham, emphasizes the groundbreaking nature of the research: “The changes we saw were substantial, not only in reducing depression symptoms, but they were large enough to improve concentration, memory, anxiety, and overall quality of life.”