Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation targeting the insular cortex for reduction of heavy drinking in treatment-seeking alcohol-dependent subjects: a randomized controlled trial

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Insula responses to drug cues are correlated with cravings, and lesions in this area reduce nicotine seeking. Here, we investigated the potential efficacy of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) targeting the insula in alcohol addiction. Treatment-seeking alcohol-dependent patients (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, Fourth Edition; N = 56) participated in this double-blind, sham-controlled, randomized trial. Participants received 10 Hz rTMS or sham using an H8 coil, 5 days a week for 3 weeks. Stimulation targeted insular cortex and overlaying regions bilaterally, while excluding anterior prefrontal areas. Craving and self-reported as well as biomarker-based drinking measures were collected at baseline, during treatment, and through 12 weeks. Resting-state magnetic resonance imaging (rsMRI) data were collected before and after treatment. Task-based MRI was used to probe brain correlates of reward processing, affective responses, and alcohol following completion of treatment. A marked overall decrease in craving and drinking measures was observed during treatment, but did not differ between rTMS or sham stimulation. Both groups equally increased their alcohol use following completion of treatment and through the 12-week follow-up. Analysis using seeds in the insula identified differences in resting-state connectivity between active and sham groups at completion of treatment, potentially indicating an ability of treatment to modify insula function. However, while each task robustly replicated brain responses established in the literature, no effects of rTMS were found. Collectively, this study does not support efficacy of rTMS targeting the insula in alcohol addiction.

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We thank Åsa Axén for outstanding management of research participants and Andrew Wold for aid in TMS stimulation. The authors gratefully acknowledge staff at the Center for Medical Imaging and Visualization (CMIV), Linköping University Hospital, Sweden.

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Correspondence to Irene Perini.

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Perini, I., Kämpe, R., Arlestig, T. et al. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation targeting the insular cortex for reduction of heavy drinking in treatment-seeking alcohol-dependent subjects: a randomized controlled trial. Neuropsychopharmacol. (2019) doi:10.1038/s41386-019-0565-7

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