Deep rTMS of the insula and prefrontal cortex in smokers with schizophrenia: Proof-of-concept study

Scott J. Moeller, Roberto Gil, Jodi J. Weinstein, Topaz Baumvoll, Kenneth Wengler, Natalka Fallon, Jared X. Van Snellenberg, Sameera Abeykoon, Greg Perlman, John Williams, Lucian Manu, Mark Slifstein, Clifford M. Cassidy, Diana M. Martinez, Anissa Abi-Dargham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Patients with schizophrenia have a high prevalence of cigarette smoking and respond poorly to conventional treatments, highlighting the need for new therapies. We conducted a mechanistic, proof-of-concept study using bilateral deep repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (dTMS) of insular and prefrontal cortices at high frequency, using the specialized H4 coil. Feasibility of dTMS was tested for disruption of tobacco self-administration, insula target engagement, and insula circuit modulation, all of which were a priori outcomes of interest. Twenty patients completed the study, consisting of weekday dTMS sessions (randomization to active dTMS or sham; double-blind; 10 patients per group), a laboratory tobacco self-administration paradigm (pre/post assessments), and multimodal imaging (three MRI total sessions). Results showed that participants assigned to active dTMS were slower to initiate smoking their first cigarette compared with sham, consistent with smoking disruption. The imaging analyses did not reveal significant Time × Group interactions, but effects were in the anticipated directions. In arterial spin labeling analyses testing for target engagement, an overall decrease in insula blood flow, measured during a post-treatment MRI versus baseline, was numerically more pronounced in the active dTMS group than sham. In fMRI analyses, resting-state connectivity between the insula and default mode network showed a numerically greater change from baseline in the active dTMS group than sham, consistent with a functional change to insula circuits. Exploratory analyses further suggested a therapeutic effect of dTMS on symptoms of psychosis. These initial observations pave the way for future confirmatory studies of dTMS in smoking patients with schizophrenia.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes


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