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Efficacy of theta burst stimulation (TBS) for major depression: An exploratory meta-analysis of randomized and sham-controlled trials

By Marcelo T. Berlim, Marcelo T. Berlim, Alexander McGirr, Nicole Rodrigues dos Santos, Sara Tremblay, Ruben Martins | Feb 15, 2017

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Theta burst stimulation (TBS) has been proposed as a novel treatment for major depression (MD). However, randomized and sham-controlled trials (RCTs) published to date have yielded heterogeneous clinical results and we have thus carried out the present systematic review and exploratory meta-analysis of RCTs to evaluate this issue. We searched the literature for RCTs on TBS for MD from January 2001 through September 2016 using MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, and CENTRAL. We then performed a random-effects meta-analysis with the main outcome measures including pre-post score changes in the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D) as well as rates of response, remission and dropout.

Data were obtained from 5 RCTs, totalling 221 subjects with MD. The pooled Hedges’ g for pre-post change in HAM-D scores was 1.0 (p = 0.003), indicating a significant and large-sized difference in outcome favouring active TBS. Furthermore, active TBS was associated with significantly higher response rates when compared to sham TBS (35.6% vs. 17.5%, respectively; p = 0.005), although the groups did not differ in terms of rates of remission (18.6% vs. 10.7%, respectively; p = 0.1) and dropout (4.2% vs. 7.8%, respectively; p = 0.5). Finally, subgroup analyses indicated that bilateral TBS and unilateral intermittent TBS seem to be the most promising protocols. In conclusion, although TBS is a promising novel therapeutic intervention for MD, future studies should identify more clinically-relevant stimulation parameters as well as neurobiological predictors of treatment outcome, and include larger sample sizes, active comparators and longer follow-up periods.

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