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The Effect of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex on Anxiety Potentiated Startle (NCT03027414)

Background: 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. Objective: To see how TMS affects fear and anxiety through memory and attention tasks. Eligibility: Healthy people ages 18-50 who are right-handed Design: 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 TMS
Ages eligible for Study
18 Years to 50 Years
Genders eligible for Study
Accepts Healthy Volunteers

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 184 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.

1 locations

United States (1)
  • National Institutes of Health Clinical Center
    Bethesda, Maryland, United States, 20892
11 January, 2017
24 January, 2018
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