Deep brain stimulation to treat severe depression

Deep brain stimulation uses mild electric impulses to stimulate specific brain regions.  A recent scientific study done by scientists at the Medical Center – University of Freiburg found that this treatment can provide long lasting relief to those suffering from severe depression.  The study used razor-thin electrodes to stimulate the portion of the brain responsible for the perception of pleasure – an area that is important for motivation and quality of life.

Deep brain stimulation successfully used to treat severe depressionThe study looked at the effects of deep brain stimulation on patients with previously non-treatable, severe forms of depression that had lasted from three to 11 years.  The depression of the patients was not responding to drugs or other psychotherapy treatments like electroconvulsive therapy.  When treated with continuous deep brain stimulation almost all of the patients experienced lasting improvements up to four years into the study. 

The scientists also noted that the treatment’s effects happened quickly.  Within one month of treatment, the average score of patients on the Montgomery-Asberg Rating Scale, a scale used in the evaluation of depressive symptoms, fell by over half.  Half of the patients in the study had scores low enough to no longer be diagnosed with depression.  The effects were also long lasting. 

Some patients did experience mild side effects like blurred or double vision, but these were reduced by lowering the intensity of the stimulation.  The lowered intensity did not affect the result of the treatment. 

A longer and larger scale follow-up study is currently underway to confirm the effectiveness and safety of deep brain stimulation.  The scientists are hopeful that the treatment can eventually be used outside of studies to help those suffering from severe depression.

For more information, please see: Deep brain stimulation to the medial forebrain bundle for depression- long-term outcomes and a novel data analysis strategy.


Loyd J. Bourgeois
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