The Impact of Theta-Burst Stimulation on Cortical GABA and Glutamate in Treatment-Resistant Depression: A Surface-Based MRSI Analysis Approach

Benjamin Spurny-Dworak, Godber M. Godbersen, Murray Reed, Jakob Unterholzner, Thomas Vanicek, Pia Baldinger-Melich, Andreas Hahn, Georg Kranz, Wolfgang Bogner, Rupert Lanzenberger (Corresponding Author), Siegfried Kasper (Corresponding Author)

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Theta burst stimulation (TBS) belongs to one of the biological antidepressant treatment options. When applied bilaterally, excitatory intermittent TBS (iTBS) is commonly targeted to the left and inhibitory continuous TBS (cTBS) to the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. TBS was shown to influence neurotransmitter systems, while iTBS is thought to interfere with glutamatergic circuits and cTBS to mediate GABAergic neurotransmission.

Objectives: We aimed to expand insights into the therapeutic effects of TBS on the GABAergic and glutamatergic system utilizing 3D-multivoxel magnetic resonance spectroscopy imaging (MRSI) in combination with a novel surface-based MRSI analysis approach to investigate changes of cortical neurotransmitter levels in patients with treatment-resistant depression (TRD).

Methods: Twelve TRD patients (five females, mean age ± SD = 35 ± 11 years) completed paired MRSI measurements, using a GABA-edited 3D-multivoxel MEGA-LASER sequence, before and after 3 weeks of bilateral TBS treatment. Changes in cortical distributions of GABA+/tNAA (GABA+macromolecules relative to total N-acetylaspartate) and Glx/tNAA (Glx = mixed signal of glutamate and glutamine), were investigated in a surface-based region-of-interest (ROI) analysis approach.

Results: ANCOVAs revealed a significant increase in Glx/tNAA ratios in the left caudal middle frontal area (pcorr. = 0.046, F = 13.292), an area targeted by iTBS treatment. Whereas, contralateral treatment with cTBS evoked no alterations in glutamate or GABA concentrations.

Conclusion: This study demonstrates surface-based adaptions in the stimulation area to the glutamate metabolism after excitatory iTBS but not after cTBS, using a novel surface-based analysis of 3D-MRSI data. The reported impact of facilitatory iTBS on glutamatergic neurotransmission provides further insight into the neurobiological effects of TBS in TRD.
Original languageEnglish
Article number913274
JournalFrontiers in Molecular Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jul 2022


  • GABA
  • MRS
  • TBS
  • TMS
  • TRD
  • depression
  • glutamate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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