Combined rTMS/fMRI Studies: An Overlooked Resource in Animal Models

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Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is a non-invasive neuromodulation technique, which has brain network-level effects in healthy individuals and is also used to treat many neurological and psychiatric conditions in which brain connectivity is believed to be abnormal. Despite the fact that rTMS is being used in a clinical setting and animal studies are increasingly identifying potential cellular and molecular mechanisms, little is known about how these mechanisms relate to clinical changes. This knowledge gap is amplified by non-overlapping approaches used in preclinical and clinical rTMS studies: preclinical studies are mostly invasive, using cellular and molecular approaches, while clinical studies are non-invasive, including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), TMS electroencephalography (EEG), positron emission tomography (PET), and behavioral measures. A non-invasive method is therefore needed in rodents to link our understanding of cellular and molecular changes to functional connectivity changes that are clinically relevant. fMRI is the technique of choice for examining both short and long term functional connectivity changes in large-scale networks and is becoming increasingly popular in animal research because of its high translatability, but, to date, there have been no reports of animal rTMS studies using this technique. This review summarizes the main studies combining different rTMS protocols with fMRI in humans, in both healthy and patient populations, providing a foundation for the design of equivalent studies in animals. We discuss the challenges of combining these two methods in animals and highlight considerations important for acquiring clinically-relevant information from combined rTMS/fMRI studies in animals. We believe that combining rTMS and fMRI in animal models will generate new knowledge in the following ways: functional connectivity changes can be explored in greater detail through complementary invasive procedures, clarifying mechanism and improving the therapeutic application of rTMS, as well as improving interpretation of fMRI data. And, in a more general context, a robust comparative approach will refine the use of animal models of specific neuropsychiatric conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number180
Number of pages17
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Issue numberMAR
Publication statusPublished - 23 Mar 2018


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