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Effect of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex on Anxiety Potentiated Startle

This study is currently recruiting participants. (see Contacts and Locations)
Verified January 24, 2017 by National Institutes of Health Clinical Center (CC)
Information provided by (Responsible Party):
National Institutes of Health Clinical Center (CC) ( National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) ) Identifier:
First received: January 18, 2017
Last updated: April 21, 2017
Last verified: January 24, 2017


Researchers want to better understand brain processes related to fear and anxiety. They want to find out if transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a type of brain stimulation, can reduce anxiety.


To see how TMS affects fear and anxiety through memory and attention tasks.


Healthy people ages 18 50 who are right-handed


Participants will be screened through another protocol.

Participants in the pilot study will have 1 visit. This includes:

Urine tests

Questionnaires about mood and thinking

Shock and startle workup: Electrodes are taped to the wrists or fingers. Participants will be shocked to find out what level of shock is uncomfortable but tolerable. They will hear loud, sudden noises through headphones.

TMS: A coil is held on the scalp. A magnetic field stimulates the brain. Sometimes they might receive fake TMS. This feels the same as real TMS. They will perform simple tasks. Participants in the main study will have 2 visits within 2 weeks.

The first visit includes:

Urine tests

Questionnaires about mood and thinking

MRI: Participants lie on a table that slides into a scanner. They will be in the scanner about 1 hour. A computer screen in the scanner will tell them to perform simple tasks.

The second visit includes:

Shock and startle workup


Healthy Volunteers

Study Type: Observational
Study Design: Observational Model: Case-Only
Time Perspective: Prospective
Official Title: The Effect of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex on Anxiety Potentiated Startle

Resource links provided by NLM:

Further study details as provided by National Institutes of Health Clinical Center (CC):

Primary Outcome Measures:
  • The primary objective of this study is to determine whether strengthening activity in the dlPFC with TMS will reduce anxiety either alone (during NPU) or during a low load cognitive task(Sternberg WM). [ Time Frame: 3 hours ]

Estimated Enrollment: 126
Study Start Date: January 12, 2017
Estimated Study Completion Date: January 1, 2023
Estimated Primary Completion Date: January 1, 2023 (Final data collection date for primary outcome measure)
Detailed Description:


To determine the effect of non-invasive brain stimulation on anxiety and anxiety-cognition interactions in healthy subjects. Toward this aim we will test the effect of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) on two outcome measures: 1) Fear and anxiety during the threat of predictable and unpredictable shock (NPU threat test), and 2) Working memory (WM) related anxiety downregulation while performing the Sternberg WM task under threat of shock.

Study population:

The study population will consist of up to 126 healthy volunteers between the ages of 18-50.


This study will consists of two outpatient visits (1 MRI, 1 TMS visit). In this protocol we will explore the effect of TMS in two sub-studies in the second study visit. The two sub-studies will contain two separate tasks (NPU or Sternberg) during the study visit. The first visit (MRI) will consist of the same procedures for both sub-studies. Each subject will be assigned to only one of the sub-studies.

Sternberg Task: Expose subjects to active or sham TMS over the right dlPFC during the Sternberg WM task. Subjects will have to maintain a series of letters in WM for a brief interval during blocks of safety and threat of shock.

NPU Task: Expose subjects to active or sham TMS over the right dlPFC during the NPU threat test. Subjects will be exposed to blocks in which they are either 1) safe from shock (neutral), 2) at risk of shock delivered only during a cue (predictable), or 3) at risk of shock presented randomly (unpredictable).

Outcome measures:

In both studies the primary outcome measure will be anxiety-potentiated startle (APS), which is the increase in startle magnitude during periods of threat compared to periods of safety. We expect active, but not sham TMS to increase activity in the dlPFC, and therefore reduce APS in both studies.


Ages Eligible for Study:   18 Years to 50 Years   (Adult)
Sexes Eligible for Study:   All
Accepts Healthy Volunteers:   No
  • Ages 18-50
  • Subjects able to give their consent
  • Right handed


  • Non-English speaking individual
  • Any significant medical or neurological problems (e.g. cardiovascular illness, respiratory illness, neurological illness, seizure, etc.)
  • Current or past Axis I psychiatric disorder(s) as identified with the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV, non-patient edition (SCID-np)
  • Active or history of active suicidal ideation.
  • Evidence of a first-degree relative with history of psychosis or bipolar disorder; specifically, participant will know diagnosis or treatment in order to confirm presence of disorder.
  • Alcohol/drug problems in the past year or lifetime alcohol or drug dependence according to the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV.
  • Current use of medications that act on histamine (i.e. diphenhydramine), dopamine (methylphenidate), norepinephrine (buproprion), serotonin (sertraline), or acetylcholine (amitryptiline) receptors. Subjects will be excluded on this basis if they either 1) take these medications on a chronic basis, or 2) if they have taken the drug within 5 half-lives of the drug metabolism, determined by the medical professional at the time of screening.
  • History of seizure (childhood febrile seizures are acceptable and these subjects may be included in the study),
  • History of epilepsy in self or first degree relatives, stroke, brain surgery, head injury, cranial metal implants, known structural brain lesion.
  • Increased risk of seizure for any reason, including prior diagnosis of increased intracranial pressure (such as after large infarctions or trauma), or currently taking medication that lowers the seizure threshold (table below).
  • Pregnancy, or positive pregnancy test.
  • Neurological syndrome of the arm (e.g., carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, etc.)
  • Positive urine toxicology screen during the screening visit.
  • IQ <80
  • Employee or staff of NIMH or are an immediate family member of a NIMH employee, staff, or NIMH contractors.
  • Any medical condition that increases risk for fMRI or TMS:

    • Any metal in their body which would make having an MRI scan unsafe, such as pacemakers, stimulators, pumps, aneurysm clips, metallic prostheses, artificial heart valves, cochlear implants or shrapnel fragments, or if you were a welder or metal worker, since you may small metal fragments in the eye.
    • Participants who are uncomfortable in small closed spaces (have claustrophobia) and would feel uncomfortable in the MRI machine
    • Patients who have difficulty lying flat on their back for up to 60 min in the scanner
    • Any sort of medical implants (pacemaker, implanted pump, stimulator, or cochlear implant, etc.)
    • History of hearing loss
  Contacts and Locations
Choosing to participate in a study is an important personal decision. Talk with your doctor and family members or friends about deciding to join a study. To learn more about this study, you or your doctor may contact the study research staff using the Contacts provided below. For general information, see Learn About Clinical Studies.

Please refer to this study by its identifier: NCT03027414

Contact: Deborah Roberts (301) 594-0642

United States, Maryland
National Institutes of Health Clinical Center Recruiting
Bethesda, Maryland, United States, 20892
Contact: For more information at the NIH Clinical Center contact Patient Recruitment and Public Liaison Office (PRPL)    800-411-1222 ext TTY8664111010   
Sponsors and Collaborators
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Principal Investigator: Christian Grillon, Ph.D. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)