Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Part of the Brain: The Inside Story exhibition.

Stimulating your brain electrically can change how you feel, think, and move--and you don't need surgery to do it. Using powerful magnets, doctors can stimulate your brain electronically, without surgery, and without touching neurons directly at all. How does this work?

How it Works

©Richard Tibbitts/Antbits

By creating a rapidly pulsing magnetic field outside your head, the procedure known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) can create electric pulses inside your brain. These electric pulses cause neural activity only in carefully targeted areas.

TMS is the fastest growing non-drug treatment for major depression, and has achieved success in many patients who did not respond to antidepressant drugs. Experimentally, it has even been used to improve drawing ability.

Because it requires no physical contact with the brain, and has fewer side effects than many drugs, TMS could have many uses: It could someday offer non-drug treatments for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Researchers are also testing TMS as a treatment for obesity, addiction, and migraine headaches.