Background: Repeated transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) can reduce cravings and improve cognitive function in substance dependent individuals. Whether these benefits extend to individuals with pathological gambling (PG) is unclear. High-frequency rTMS of the medial prefrontal cortex (PFC) and continuous theta burst stimulation (cTBS) of the right dorsolateral PFC can reduce impulsive choice in healthy volunteers.
Objective: This study aimed to assess the effects of these two protocols on gambling reinforcement and related responses in otherwise healthy men with PG.
Methods: Participants (n = 9) underwent active or sham treatments at weekly intervals in a repeated-measures, Latin square design. Subjective and physiological responses were assessed before and after a 15-min slot machine game on each session. Delay discounting and Stroop tasks measured post-game impulsive choice and attentional control.
Results: Multivariate analysis of covariance, controlling for winnings on the slot machine under each treatment, found that rTMS reduced the post-game increase in Desire to Gamble; cTBS reduced amphetamine-like effects, and decreased diastolic blood pressure. Treatment had no significant univariate effects on bet size or speed of play in the game; however, a multivariate effect for the two indices suggested that treatment decreased behavioral activation. Neither treatment reduced impulsive choice, while both treatments increased Stroop interference.
Conclusions: rTMS and cTBS can reduce gambling reinforcement in non-comorbid men with PG. Separate processes appear to mediate gambling reinforcement and betting behavior as against delay discounting and Stroop interference. Interventions that modify risky as opposed to temporal aspects of decision making may better predict therapeutic response in PG.