Deep Brain Stimulation shows promise as treatment for depression
By Ben Coxworth
April 10, 2013
Deep Brain Stimulation, in which a pacemaker-like device activates select regions of the brain via implanted electrodes, has been used to help people suffering from a variety of neurological problems. Just in the past few years, studies have explored its use for treating anorexia, Alzheimer’s, and memory disorders. Now, perhaps not surprisingly, scientists from Germany’s Bonn University Hospital have found that it also appears to do wonders for acute depression.
It’s not the first time that the technique has been tried on depression, although in previous studies, the nucleus accumbens region of the brain was targeted. This time around, a bundle of nerve fibers running from the limbic system to the prefrontal cortex was selected – a region known as the medial forebrain bundle.
Both regions play a role in the brain’s reward system, which is in turn associated with feelings of euphoria. Because the medial forebrain bundle contains so many nerve fibers lying close together, however, the therapy is reportedly able to have a maximum effect using a relatively weak electrical current.
In the Bonn study, six of seven severely-depressed test subjects showed a significant reduction in symptoms such as “anxiety, despondence, listlessness and joylessness” – within a matter of days of starting the treatment. An eighth patient treated since has also shown great improvement. The patients have been monitored for up to 18 months after treatment, and the effects appear to be more than just temporary – so far.
In the earlier-mentioned previous studies, by contrast, a higher current needed to be used, results took a matter of weeks to appear, and the therapy worked for only about 50 percent of the subjects. Researchers at UCLA, however, have had a better success rate using external Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation on nerves in the foreheads of depressed patients.
A paper on the Bonn research, which was led by Prof. Volker Arnd Coenen and Prof. Thomas E. Schläpfer, was recently published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
Source: Bonn University