From the Journals

Novel therapy an effective alternative to ECT for suicidality in TRD?


Magnetic seizure therapy (MST) appears to be a viable alternative to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in reducing suicide risk in patients with treatment-resistant depression (TRD), early research suggests.

In a single-center, open-label study, MST produced complete remission from suicidality in almost half of the patients who received the treatment.

“The results are promising,” lead author Cory R. Weissman, MD, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, University of Toronto, told Medscape Medical News.

“The field needs new ways of approaching suicidality because it’s becoming a bigger issue and a major concern, especially now with COVID. These are early but promising results that need to be followed up,” Weissman said.

The study was published online August 18 in JAMA Network Open.

Fewer side effects, less stigma

MST is similar to ECT, which is an effective treatment for suicidality in mood disorders. However, ECT is underutilized – fewer than 1% of patients with TRD receive the treatment – because of stigma and/or a perceived risk of cognitive adverse effects, he said.

“MST is a focal magnetic pulse that leads to discharge or depolarization within the frontal lobe of the brain with the goal of inducing a seizure. It works quite similarly to ECT, which we know is quite a good anti-suicidal treatment, especially in depression,” Weissman explained

However, MST has fewer side effects, particularly on cognition, and less stigma compared to ECT. It also has a different mechanism of action, with a “more focal treatment target in the brain than ECT to induce seizures,” Weissman said.

The Toronto group has been studying MST in various mood disorders for several years. As previously reported by Medscape Medical News, MST is effective in reducing suicidal thoughts in treatment-resistant bipolar disorder.

The current study is a post hoc secondary analysis of data from the group’s original trial of MST as a treatment for treatment resistant depression in patients initially referred for ECT. The trial ran from February 2012 through June 2019 and with a post-treatment 6-month follow-up.

The secondary analysis was performed from January 2019 to November 2019.

The secondary analysis included 67 patients who underwent MST 2 to 3 times per week until they achieved remission from a depressive episode or until they reached a maximum of 24 sessions. All had baseline suicidality, as defined by a score greater than 0 on the Beck Scale for Suicidal Ideation (Beck SSI).

MST was administered using the MagPro MST device with Twin Coil-XS (MagVenture) applied over the frontal cortex at 100% machine output with low (25 Hz), moderate (50 or 60 Hz), or high (100 Hz) frequency.

“It’s very similar to ECT. The actual seizure lasts about a minute or two, and patients recover in about 10 to 15 minutes and they go home afterwards,” Weissman said.

The main outcome was remission from suicidality as measured by an end-point score of 0 on the Beck SSI. Of the 67 patients, 32 (47.8%) achieved remission from suicidality.

Low and moderate frequencies appeared to be more effective for suicidality; 16 of 29 patients (55.2%) receiving low frequency MST achieved remission, as did 12 of 22 patients (54.5%) receiving moderate frequency MST. Four of 16 patients (25%) who received high frequency MST achieved remission from suicidality.


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