Deep Brain Stimulation
Over the past two decades, a neurosurgical technique known as Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) has revolutionized the fields of both medicine and neuroscience. DBS has been able to accomplish incredible feats once deemed impossible, one of these being the extremely effective treatment of Parkinson’s Disease symptoms. DBS has also opened many doors to a bright future where debilitating neurological disorders and diseases may be eradicated.
So what exactly is Deep Brain Stimulation? Deep Brain Stimulation essentially consists of sending electrical impulses to certain brain areas via surgically implanted electrodes, resulting in the removal of adverse neurological symptoms. The exact mechanism by which DBS exerts its effect on neurons is still not fully understood, although many theories have been presented. One popular explanation for the mechanism behind DBS is that electrode stimulation of certain brain areas induces changes in neuronal activity in the respective neural circuits that would ultimately change physiological and cognitive behavior.
An example of DBS in action can be seen through one of its most common applications, Parkinson’s Disease treatment. Parkinson’s Disease is characterized by voluntary motor deficits and symptoms including resting tremor, bradykinesia, postural instability, extreme difficulty initiating voluntary movement, and more. These symptoms are caused by the loss of dopamine producing neurons in an area called the substantia nigra, which is a constituent of a much more complex brain circuit within the basal ganglia that controls the initiation of voluntary movement. Needless to say, this neurodegenerative disease is very debilitating for the patient. When medications such as L-DOPA fail to alleviate Parkinson’s Disease symptoms, DBS steps in to save the day. Electrodes are surgically inserted into brain areas such as the internal Globus Pallidus or the Subthalamic Nucleus and are connected to an internal pulse generator (IPG) located in the patient’s chest or abdominal cavity. Upon the initiation of electrical impulses to those certain brain areas via the implanted electrodes, the patient’s symptoms disappear immediately and the patient is able to execute normal voluntary motor function without difficulty.
DBS holds vast potential and unending applications in the fields of medicine and neuroscience. DBS research is currently being done to investigate its effect in treating a plethora of neurological disorders including major depressive disorder, OCD, PTSD, addictions, Alzheimer’s Disease dementia, chronic pain, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and more. As mentioned, DBS has opened the doors to a new and hopeful future in which neuroscience research and medicine can eradicate the most debilitating of neurological disorders. Ironically, although DBS was created to provide an answer to the many questions plaguing neuroscientists and doctors today, it has instead prompted us to ask infinitely more questions and has further shown how little we know about our own brains. I will end our short discussion of Deep Brain Stimulation with a quote by Santiago Ramon y Cajal, the father of modern neuroscience himself, which sums up what DBS, and neuroscience itself, is all about: “To know the brain…is equivalent to ascertaining the material course of thought and will, to discovering the intimate history of life in its perpetual duel with external forces.”
Writer: Richard Kuang
Editor: Audrey Kim