Update: Navigated transcranial magnetic stimulation for language mapping

In respect to language mapping with repetitive nTMS, literature reports have yielded variable results, and it is currently not routinely performed for presurgical language localization.

The expert panel recommends nTMS motor mapping in routine neurosurgical practice, as it has a sufficient level of evidence supporting its reliability. The panel recommends that nTMS language mapping be used in the framework of clinical studies to continue refinement of its protocol and increase reliability 1).

Although language mapping by repetitive navigated transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) gains importance in neuropsychological research and clinical utility, neuroscientists still use different mapping protocols including different stimulation frequencies.

The stimulation frequency has to be adapted to the aim of the rTMS language investigation 2).


Ille et al. performed multimodal language mapping in 35 patients with left-sided perisylvian lesions by using rTMS, fMRI, and DCS. The rTMS mappings were conducted with a picture-to-trigger interval (PTI, time between stimulus presentation and stimulation onset) of either 0 or 300 msec. The error rates (ERs; that is, the number of errors per number of stimulations) were calculated for each region of the cortical parcellation system (CPS). Subsequently, the rTMS mappings were analyzed through different error rate thresholds (ERT; that is, the ER at which a CPS region was defined as language positive in terms of rTMS), and the 2-out-of-3 rule (a stimulation site was defined as language positive in terms of rTMS if at least 2 out of 3 stimulations caused an error). As a second step, the authors combined the results of fMRI and rTMS in a predefined protocol of combined noninvasive mapping. To validate this noninvasive protocol, they correlated its results to DCS during awake surgery.

The analysis by different rTMS ERTs obtained the highest correlation regarding sensitivity and a low rate of false positives for the ERTs of 15%, 20%, 25%, and the 2-out-of-3 rule. However, when comparing the combined fMRI and rTMS results with DCS, the authors observed an overall specificity of 83%, a positive predictive value of 51%, a sensitivity of 98%, and a negative predictive value of 95%.

In comparison with fMRI, rTMS is a more sensitive but less specific tool for preoperative language mapping than DCS. Moreover, rTMS is most reliable when using ERTs of 15%, 20%, 25%, or the 2-out-of-3 rule and a PTI of 0 msec. Furthermore, the combination of fMRI and rTMS leads to a higher correlation to DCS than both techniques alone, and the presented protocols for combined noninvasive language mapping might play a supportive role in the language-mapping assessment prior to the gold-standard intraoperative DCS 3).


nTMS and MEGI were performed on 12 subjects. nTMS yielded 21 positive language disruption sites (11 speech arrest, 5 anomia, and 5 other) while DCS yielded 10 positive sites (2 speech arrest, 5 anomia, and 3 other). MEGI isolated 32 sites of peak activation with language tasks. Positive language sites were most commonly found in the pars opercularis for all three modalities. In 9 instances the positive DCS site corresponded to a positive nTMS site, while in 1 instance it did not. In 4 instances, a positive nTMS site corresponded to a negative DCS site, while 169 instances of negative nTMS and DCS were recorded. The sensitivity of nTMS was therefore 90%, specificity was 98%, the positive predictive value was 69% and the negative predictive value was 99% as compared with intraoperative DCS. MEGI language sites for verb generation and object naming correlated with nTMS sites in 5 subjects, and with DCS sites in 2 subjects. CONCLUSION: Maps of language function generated with nTMS correlate well with those generated by DCS. Negative nTMS mapping also correlates with negative DCS mapping. In our study, MEGI lacks the same level of correlation with intraoperative mapping; nevertheless it provides useful adjunct information in some cases. nTMS may offer a lesion-based method for noninvasively interrogating language pathways and be valuable in managing patients with peri-eloquent lesions 4).

Twenty patients with tumors in or close to left-sided language eloquent regions were examined by repetitive nTMS before surgery. During awake surgery, language-eloquent cortex was identified by DCS. nTMS results were compared for accuracy and reliability with regard to DCS by projecting both results into the cortical parcellation system.

Presurgical nTMS maps showed an overall sensitivity of 90.2%, specificity of 23.8%, positive predictive value of 35.6%, and negative predictive value of 83.9% compared with DCS. For the anatomic Broca’s area, the corresponding values were a sensitivity of 100%, specificity of 13.0%, positive predictive value of 56.5%, and negative predictive value of 100%, respectively.

Good overall correlation between repetitive nTMS and DCS was observed, particularly with regard to negatively mapped regions. Noninvasive inhibition mapping with nTMS is evolving as a valuable tool for preoperative mapping of language areas. Yet its low specificity in posterior language areas in the current study necessitates further research to refine the methodology 5).


Krieg SM, Lioumis P, Mäkelä JP, Wilenius J, Karhu J, Hannula H, Savolainen P, Lucas CW, Seidel K, Laakso A, Islam M, Vaalto S, Lehtinen H, Vitikainen AM, Tarapore PE, Picht T. Protocol for motor and language mapping by navigated TMS in patients and healthy volunteers; workshop report. Acta Neurochir (Wien). 2017 Jul;159(7):1187-1195. doi: 10.1007/s00701-017-3187-z. Epub 2017 Apr 29. Review. PubMed PMID: 28456870.

Hauck T, Tanigawa N, Probst M, Wohlschlaeger A, Ille S, Sollmann N, Maurer S, Zimmer C, Ringel F, Meyer B, Krieg SM. Stimulation frequency determines the distribution of language positive cortical regions during navigated transcranial magnetic brain stimulation. BMC Neurosci. 2015 Feb 18;16(1):5. PubMed PMID: 25880838.

Ille S, Sollmann N, Hauck T, Maurer S, Tanigawa N, Obermueller T, Negwer C, Droese D, Zimmer C, Meyer B, Ringel F, Krieg SM. Combined noninvasive language mapping by navigated transcranial magnetic stimulation and functional MRI and its comparison with direct cortical stimulation. J Neurosurg. 2015 Jul;123(1):212-25. doi: 10.3171/2014.9.JNS14929. Epub 2015 Mar 6. PubMed PMID: 25748306.

Tarapore PE, Findlay AM, Honma SM, Mizuiri D, Houde JF, Berger MS, Nagarajan SS. Language mapping with navigated repetitive TMS: proof of technique and validation. Neuroimage. 2013 Nov 15;82:260-72. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2013.05.018. Epub 2013 May 20. PubMed PMID: 23702420; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3759608.

Picht T, Krieg SM, Sollmann N, Rösler J, Niraula B, Neuvonen T, Savolainen P, Lioumis P, Mäkelä JP, Deletis V, Meyer B, Vajkoczy P, Ringel F. A comparison of language mapping by preoperative navigated transcranial magnetic stimulation and direct cortical stimulation during awake surgery. Neurosurgery. 2013 May;72(5):808-19. doi: 10.1227/NEU.0b013e3182889e01. PubMed PMID: 23385773.

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