Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation for "Voices"


Hallucinations | Schizophrenia

Trial Phase

Phase 2

Trial Purpose and Description

Trial Purpose

This study will determine the efficacy of MRI-guided transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)in reducing "voices" and other symptoms experienced by people with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. In addition, the study will determine duration of improvement obtained during the course of trial participation via on-going monthly contact with study participants for up to 1 year after the trial.

Trial Description


Schizophrenia is a severely disabling brain disorder that affects about 1% of the United States population. Approximately 50 to 80% of people with schizophrenia experience "voices," also known as auditory hallucinations. These hallucinations consist of spoken speech, which sometimes replicates the speaking voice of a familiar person, and sometimes reflects a speaking voice that is not known but becomes highly recognizable. The phrases and sentences expressed by "voices" are often highly disruptive, and may comment, cajole, criticize, and, in some cases, command the patient. They are often but not invariably distressing, and can disrupt one's ability to interact with others, work, study, and sleep. In about 25% of cases, medication treatment is either completely ineffective or only partially effective in relieving "voices." Effective treatment alternatives are needed to improve this troubling and often disabling symptom.

Recent studies have suggested that auditory hallucinations arise from parts of the brain that are ordinarily involved in perceiving actual spoken speech. Low frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), a technique that uses an electromagnet to induce reductions in cortical brain activity, may therefore be effective in quieting auditory hallucinations. The potential usefulness of this approach has been demonstrated by previous studies conducted at our medical center. This new study uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to locate two areas of the brain involved in speech perception. These areas are in Wernicke's area in the left superior temporal gyrus, and in the right hemisphere in an analogous site in the superior temporal gyrus. Repetitive TMS is specifically positioned to reduce cortical excitability or reactivity at these two brain regions.

Participants in this double blind study will be randomly assigned to receive either real rTMS, or placebo stimulation, which feels similar to real rTMS but does not produce direct brain effects. Depending on group assignment, participation may last 4 to 8 weeks. Over the first 2 weeks, all participants will undergo two sequences of rTMS, each consisting of five 16-minute sessions. One sequence is directed to left Wernicke's area and the other sequence is directed to the right-sided equivalent area. During the third week, participants will receive five additional sessions to the left or right site that appeared to produce greater clinical improvement. All participants will then be informed as to whether they received real or placebo stimulation. Participants who received real stimulation will be offered 5 additional stimulation sessions at the brain site that achieved the best response. Participants who received placebo stimulation will be offered real stimulation for up to twenty sessions over 4 weeks using the same schedule described above. Assessments of severity of hallucinations and other clinical symptoms will be conducted after every fifth rTMS session by a clinician who does not know whether the participant is receiving real or placebo stimulation.

Neuropsychological testing will also be done before, during, and after the trial. Our previous trial demonstrated some improvement in verbal processing with no significant impairments in terms of memory, language or cognitive function. However, insofar as this trial involves a greater total "dose" of rTMS, careful monitoring of these functions is conducted throughout the trial.

In addition, the study will determine the degree to which improvement obtained during the course of trial is sustained over the ensuing months. This is accomplished via on-going monthly contact with study participants for up to 1 year after the last rTMS stimulation session.

Participation Guidelines

18 Years - 55 Years

Eligibility Criteria

Inclusion Criteria:

- Auditory hallucinations that occur at least five times per day, on average

- Diagnosis of schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder

Exclusion Criteria:

- Pregnant

- History of seizure that is not drug-induced or secondary to alcohol withdrawal

- Drug or alcohol abuse within 6 weeks of study entry (prior history of drug or alcohol
abuse is not an exclusion)

- Changes in antipsychotic drug dosages within 4 weeks of study entry (patients do
not need to be on antipsychotic medication to be included)

- Current significant untreated or unstable medical illness (e.g., poorly controlled
diabetes mellitus, severe hypertension, unstable cardiac arrhythmia)

- Inability to understand the nature of the study due to severe psychotic
disorganization, mental retardation, etc.

- Significant neurological condition (e.g., traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis)

- Factors that would preclude an MRI scan (e.g., severe obesity, claustrophobia,
certain surgical implants with metallic components, metal shavings in the eye
acquired while working as machinist)

- Cardiac pacemaker
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Yale University
February 2006
Last Updated:
December 13, 2012
Study HIC#:
0110012679 ID: NCT00308997