A new perspective on the mechanisms and therapeutic potential of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is explored in a recently published review in the highly respected journal The Neuroscientist. 

The paper is titled: Intrinsic Plasticity Mechanisms of Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation’. 

The first author is Emily King, PhD candidate and member of the Brain Plasticity Research group at UWA and Perron Institute. 

“Despite the widespread use of rTMS in clinical and basic neuroscience, we are still just beginning to understand the cellular mechanisms that underlie its effect on neural plasticity,” Emily said. 

“Plasticity is the ability of the brain to modify itself in response to change and can be broken down into two main categories: plasticity of the connections between neurons (known as synaptic plasticity) and plasticity of intrinsic excitability and firing properties of neurons (known as intrinsic plasticity).  

“While a majority of studies have focused on rTMS-induced synaptic plasticity, recent evidence has suggested a role for intrinsic plasticity mechanisms that may contribute to the therapeutic effects of rTMS.  

“This is prompting a significant shift in our understanding of how rTMS alters neural excitability and plasticity.” 

Currently, rTMS is used to treat major depressive disorders by stimulating the brain non-invasively through the scalp and skull. Therapeutic potential has also been demonstrated for a range of other neurological disorders. 

There remains much to uncover to fully understand the mechanisms, and this is the overarching theme of the wide-ranging review paper.  

The senior author is Dr Alex Tang, a group leader in the Brain Plasticity Research group at UWA and Perron Institute.