- •High-frequency rTMS (10 Hz) can improve the efficacy of virtual reality exposure based therapy (VRET) in acrophobic patients.
- •Higher reduction of phobic anxiety and avoidance after VR exposure therapy in the active stimulation group.
- •R-TMS seems to primarily influence extinction processes and not extinction recall itself.
- •While the general principle of increased fear extinction after rTMS holds up across species, individual effects may differ.
Animal as well as human research indicated that the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) is highly relevant for fear extinction learning. Recently, we showed that targeting the vmPFC with high-frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) in a placebo-controlled study with 45 healthy controls induced higher prefrontal activity during extinction of conditioned stimuli (CS+) in the active compared to the sham stimulated group and better extinction learning as indicated by ratings, fear potentiated startles and skin conductance responses.
In this study, we aimed to proof our concept of accelerating extinction learning using rTMS of the mPFC in a group of anxiety disorder patients.
To specifically evaluate the impact of rTMS on exposure-based therapy, we applied a sham-controlled protocol over the vmPFC (FPz) succeeded by a virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) in n = 20 participants with acrophobia and n = 19 controls.
We found a significantly higher reduction in active compared to sham stimulated group for anxiety (t = 2.33, p < 0.05) as well as avoidance ratings t = 2.34, p < 0.05) from pre to post therapy.
This study provides first clinical evidence that high-frequency rTMS over the vmPFC improves exposure therapy response of acrophobia symptoms.
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Published online: November 14, 2016
Accepted: November 13, 2016
Received in revised form: November 10, 2016
Received: May 11, 2016
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