Brain Topography

, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 281–293 | Cite as

Using EEG to Explore How rTMS Produces Its Effects on Behavior

  • Jeffrey S. Johnson
  • Massihullah Hamidi
  • Bradley R. Postle
Original Paper


A commonly held view is that, when delivered during the performance of a task, repetitive TMS (rTMS) influences behavior by producing transient “virtual lesions” in targeted tissue. However, findings of rTMS-related improvements in performance are difficult to reconcile with this assumption. With regard to the mechanism whereby rTMS influences concurrent task performance, a combined rTMS/EEG study conducted in our lab has revealed a complex set of relations between rTMS, EEG activity, and behavioral performance, with the effects of rTMS on power in the alpha band and on alpha:gamma phase synchrony each predicting its effect on behavior. These findings suggest that rTMS influences performance by biasing endogenous task-related oscillatory dynamics, rather than creating a “virtual lesion”. To further differentiate these two alternatives, in the present study we compared the effects of 10 Hz rTMS on neural activity with the results of an experiment in which rTMS was replaced with 10 Hz luminance flicker. We reasoned that 10 Hz flicker would produce widespread entrainment of neural activity to the flicker frequency, and comparison of these EEG results with those from the rTMS study would shed light on whether the latter also reflected entrainment to an exogenous stimulus. Results revealed pronounced evidence for “entrainment noise” produced by 10 Hz flicker—increased oscillatory power and inter-trial coherence (ITC) at the driving frequency, and increased alpha:gamma phase synchronization—that were nonetheless largely uncorrelated with behavior. This contrasts markedly with 10-Hz rTMS, for which the only evidence for stimulation-induced noise, elevated ITC at 30 Hz, differed qualitatively from the flicker results. Simultaneous recording of the EEG thus offers an important means of directly testing assumptions about how rTMS exerts its effects on behavior.


TMS EEG Virtual lesion 



The flicker and rTMS experiments were both performed in the laboratory of Giulio Tononi, and many members of this research group provided valuable technical assistance and discussions of the results. The work was supported by R01 MH069448 (B.R.P.), F32 MH088115 (J.S.J.), F30 MH078705 (M.H.), and NARSAD (G.T.).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeffrey S. Johnson
    • 1
  • Massihullah Hamidi
    • 2
    • 3
  • Bradley R. Postle
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  2. 2.Medical Scientist Training ProgramUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  3. 3.Neuroscience Training ProgramUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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