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Letter to the Editor   |    
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation and Processing of Facial Threats
JACK van HONK, Ph.D.; DENNIS J.L.G. SCHUTTER, M.A.
Am J Psychiatry 2004;161:928-928. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.161.5.928

To the Editor: With great interest, we read the article by Ralph E. Hoffman, M.D., and Idil Cavus, M.D., Ph.D. (1), who discussed the results of a recent study of slow repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) on the attentional processing of threatening facial expressions (2). They considered those results consistent with the findings of McCann et al. (3), who reported reductions in the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after slow rTMS over the right prefrontal cortex. Since enhanced reactivity to a perceived threat is a central symptom of PTSD, the demonstration of reduced attention to threatening faces after slow rTMS over the right prefrontal cortex (2) would, according to Drs. Hoffman and Cavus, not only fit the valence model of approach- and withdrawal-related emotion but also provide evidence concurring with the study by McCann et al. (3).

Although we, in fact, showed enhanced attention to threatening (angry) facial expressions after right prefrontal cortex rTMS (2), our finding is in accordance with the valence model. Threat can be displayed by fearful and angry facial expressions, but whereas fear is a withdrawal-related emotion associated with relatively more right-sided activity of the prefrontal cortex, anger is an approach-related emotion associated with relatively more left prefrontal cortex activity (4). The local inhibitory effects of slow rTMS of the right prefrontal cortex induce relatively more left prefrontal cortex activity and thus enhance attention to angry faces (2). Slow rTMS of the right prefrontal cortex should contrariwise reduce attention to fearful faces since there is clearly relatively less right prefrontal activity. In agreement, we recently demonstrated reduced attention to fearful faces in a placebo-controlled study of slow rTMS over the right prefrontal cortex (4). These findings concur with the reductions in fear-related PTSD symptoms by McCann et al. (3) Moreover, rTMS-EEG research indicates that the reductions in attention to fearful faces (4) are anxiolytically mediated and that the local inhibitory effects of right prefrontal cortex rTMS result in excitation of the left prefrontal cortex (5). Such left prefrontal cortex excitation after slow rTMS of the right prefrontal cortex is not counterintuitive but is defensibly due to reductions in transcallosal inhibition, a crucial mechanism in the valence model of emotion.

In sum, when discussing the motivational and neurobiological mechanisms by which slow rTMS over the prefrontal cortex reaches its effects on approach- and withdrawal-related emotion, the phenomenon of contralateral inhibition between the hemispheres and the exact nature of the emotional index of behavior should be taken into account.

Hoffman RE, Cavus I: Slow transcranial magnetic stimulation, long-term depotentiation, and brain hyperexcitability disorders. Am J Psychiatry  2002; 159:1093–1102
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
d’Alfonso AAL, van Honk J, Hermans E, Postma A, de Haan EHF: Laterality effects in selective attention to threat after repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation at the prefrontal cortex in female subjects. Neurosci Lett  2000; 280:195–198
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
McCann UD, Kimbrell TA, Morgan CM, Geraci M, Benson BE, Wassermann EM, Willis MW, Post RM: Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation for posttraumatic stress disorder (letter). Arch Gen Psychiatry  1998; 55:277–279
 
van Honk J, Schutter DJLG, d’Alfonso AAL, Kessels RPC, de Haan EHF: 1 hz rTMS over the right prefrontal cortex reduces vigilant attention to unmasked but not to masked fearful faces. Biol Psychiatry  2002; 52:312–317
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Schutter DJLG, van Honk J, d’Alfonso AAL, Postma A, de Haan EHF: Effects of slow rTMS at the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex on EEG asymmetry and mood. Neuroreport  2001; 12:445–447
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
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References

Hoffman RE, Cavus I: Slow transcranial magnetic stimulation, long-term depotentiation, and brain hyperexcitability disorders. Am J Psychiatry  2002; 159:1093–1102
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
d’Alfonso AAL, van Honk J, Hermans E, Postma A, de Haan EHF: Laterality effects in selective attention to threat after repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation at the prefrontal cortex in female subjects. Neurosci Lett  2000; 280:195–198
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
McCann UD, Kimbrell TA, Morgan CM, Geraci M, Benson BE, Wassermann EM, Willis MW, Post RM: Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation for posttraumatic stress disorder (letter). Arch Gen Psychiatry  1998; 55:277–279
 
van Honk J, Schutter DJLG, d’Alfonso AAL, Kessels RPC, de Haan EHF: 1 hz rTMS over the right prefrontal cortex reduces vigilant attention to unmasked but not to masked fearful faces. Biol Psychiatry  2002; 52:312–317
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Schutter DJLG, van Honk J, d’Alfonso AAL, Postma A, de Haan EHF: Effects of slow rTMS at the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex on EEG asymmetry and mood. Neuroreport  2001; 12:445–447
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
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