Noninvasive Brain Stimulation for Mild Cognitive Impairment

  • End date
    Jan 13, 2024
  • participants needed
  • sponsor
    Palo Alto Veterans Institute for Research
Updated on 13 May 2021
cognitive impairment
transcranial magnetic stimulation
mild cognitive impairment
neuropsychological test
brain stimulation
neuropsychological assessment
repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation


The goal of this study is to test the efficacy of repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) as a treatment for Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). Participants will be randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups: Group 1: Active Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex (DLPFC) rTMS; Group 2: Active Lateral Parietal Cortex (LPC) rTMS; and Group 3: Inactive rTMS (Placebo) control (evenly split between each coil location). Participation in the study takes approximately 7 months-including a 2-to 4-week treatment phase (20 rTMS sessions) and a 6-month follow-up phase.


This study aims to test the efficacy of a non-pharmacological treatment for MCI that involves noninvasive brain stimulation (NIBS). Early studies in Alzheimer's disease (AD) dementia patients have found that repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS, a form of NIBS) improved global cognitive function and activities of daily living. Given that in AD, neuronal loss and synaptic dysfunction progress along brain networks, the results of these early studies of brain stimulation suggest there is sufficient neuroplasticity in AD for efficacious effects of brain stimulation. Of the very few rTMS studies in MCI that have been published, the effect size appears to be moderately large. However, it is not clear whether the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), the stimulation site used in the most of the prior MCI/AD rTMS trials, is the optimal site for achieving the most efficacious effects including effects on episodic memory. Importantly, when other investigators used rTMS to stimulate a lateral parietal cortical (LPC) site in healthy young adults, significant effects of rTMS on memory were measureable weeks later. Moreover, functional connectivity of brain regions was selectively increased, including the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), a "hub" of brain networks that is affected in amnestic MCI.

Because stimulation of the DLPFC and the LPC may each have distinct effects, we designed this pilot trial to have two active rTMS treatment groups: DLPFC and LPC. A third group will receive inactive (placebo) rTMS to achieve a controlled, randomized, double-blind trial. For each of the three groups, stimulation will be bilateral, based on effects achieved in the AD studies. The primary hypothesis is that active rTMS (to either site of stimulation) will be superior to inactive (placebo) rTMS in improving memory. Measures of change in functional connectivity will be computed to examine whether there is evidence that rTMS changes connectivity of the PCC with other regions of the brain. In addition to looking at effects of rTMS on functional connectivity and cognition in relation to the cortical site stimulated, genetic markers will be collected toward addressing heterogeneity of response. To track the durability of rTMS effects on memory, participants will be followed longer than in any prior study (up to 6 months after the intervention). If this study finds rTMS improves memory in older adults with MCI, further clinical development of this non-pharmacological treatment could ultimately improve the lives of millions of older adults who have MCI and are at an increased risk of developing dementia.

Condition Amnesia, Memory impairment, Mild Cognitive Impairment, Cognitive Impairment, Cognitive Dysfunction, Cognitive Decline, Cognitive Impairments, Mild Neurocognitive Disorder, Mental Deterioration, Memory Decline, Memory Loss, Memory Problems, impair memory, bad memory, disturbance of memory, neurocognitive disturbance, loss of memory
Treatment Active rTMS (Bilateral DLPFC), Active rTMS (Bilateral LPC), Placebo rTMS (Inactive)
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT03331796
SponsorPalo Alto Veterans Institute for Research
Last Modified on13 May 2021


Yes No Not Sure

Inclusion Criteria

Diagnosed with amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment (aMCI)
Stable medications (including any dementia-related meds) for at least 4 weeks prior to Baseline
Geriatric Depression Scale score less than 6
Ability to obtain a motor threshold, determined during the screening process
Study partner available; living situation enables attendance at clinic visits
Visual and auditory acuity adequate for neuropsychological testing
Good general health with no diseases expected to interfere with the study
Participant is not pregnant or of childbearing potential (i.e. women must be 2 years post-menopausal or surgically sterile)
Modified Hachinski Ischemic score less than or equal to 4
Agree to DNA extraction for single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) genotyping
Able to understand study procedures and comply with them for the entire length of the study

Exclusion Criteria

Prior exposure to rTMS within the past 12 months
Magnetic field safety concern such as a cardiac pacemaker, cochlear implant, implanted device in the brain (deep brain stimulation), or metal fragments or foreign objects in the eyes, skin or body
Any significant neurological disease other than suspected incipient Alzheimer's disease
Unstable cardiac disease or recent (< 3 months previous) myocardial infarction. Any significant systemic illness or unstable medical condition that could lead to difficulty with protocol adherence
History of epilepsy or repetitive seizures, as determined by patient report or chart review
History of a medical condition or current use/abuse of medications and substances that increase the risk of a seizure, specifically
Traumatic brain injury within 2 months that would increase the risk for seizure
Unable to safely withdraw, at least 4 weeks prior to Baseline, from medications that substantially increase the risk of having seizures (for example: theophylline, clozapine, and methylphenidate)
Current or past history of a mass lesion, cerebral infarct, or other noncognitive active neurological disease that would increase the risk for seizure
Stimulant abuse within the previous 90 days. Cocaine and abuse of amphetamine and methylphenidate are associated with an increased risk of seizures
Major depression or bipolar disorder (DSM-IV) within the past 1 year, or psychotic features within the last 3 months that could lead to difficulty with protocol adherence
Taking sedative hypnotics or medications with anti-cholinergic properties and unable to withdraw at least 4 weeks prior to Baseline
Current alcohol or substance abuse (not including caffeine or nicotine) within the past 1 year, as determined by chart review, participant or study partner report, or greater than "moderate" alcohol use defined by the Quantity-Frequency-Variability Index (Cahalan, Cisin, & Crossley, 1969)
Any contraindications for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies, e.g. severe claustrophobia, weight above 350 lb maximum allowed by MRI scanner, pregnancy
Participation in another concurrent clinical trial
Inability or unwillingness of individual or legal representative to give written informed consent
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