Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) was introduced as a non-invasive tool for the investigation of the motor cortex. The repetitive application (rTMS), causing longer lasting effects, was used to study the influence on a variety of cerebral functions. High-frequency (>1 Hz) rTMS is known to depolarize neurons under the stimulating coil and to indirectly affect areas being connected and related to emotion and behavior. Researchers found selective cognitive improvement after high-frequency (HF) stimulation specifically over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). This article provides a systematic review of HF-rTMS studies (1999–2009) stimulating over the prefrontal cortex of patients suffering from psychiatric/neurological diseases or healthy volunteers, where the effects on cognitive functions were measured. The cognitive effect was analyzed with regard to the impact of clinical status (patients/healthy volunteers) and stimulation type (verum/sham). RTMS at 10, 15 or 20 Hz, applied over the left DLPFC, within a range of 10–15 successive sessions and an individual motor threshold of 80–110%, is most likely to cause significant cognitive improvement. In comparison, patients tend to reach a greater improvement than healthy participants. Limitations concern the absence of healthy groups in clinical studies and partly the absence of sham groups. Thus, future investigations are needed to assess cognitive rTMS effects in different psychiatric disorders versus healthy subjects using an extended standardized neuropsychological test battery. Since the pathophysiological and neurobiological basis of cognitive improvement with rTMS remains unclear, additional studies including genetics, experimental neurophysiology and functional brain imaging are necessary to explore stimulation-related functional changes in the brain.
Keywords: Transcranial magnetic stimulation, High-frequency rTMS, Prefrontal cortex, Cognition