What is deep brain stimulation?

  1. DBS is a surgical procedure that involves implanting electrodes in the brain.
  2. It has been shown to be useful in the treatment of persistent depression.
  3. Doctors recommend that you try drugs and therapy before opting for DBS.

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) has been shown to be a viable option for some people who have depression. Doctors originally used it to help manage Parkinson’s disease. In DBS, a doctor implants tiny electrodes in the part of the brain that regulates mood. Some doctors have practiced DBS since the 1980s, but it’s a rare procedure. Although long-term success rates have yet to be established, some doctors recommend DBS as an alternative therapy for patients whose previous depression treatments have been unsuccessful.

A doctor surgically implants tiny electrodes in the nucleus accumbens, which is the region of the brain responsible for:

  • dopamine and serotonin release
  • motivation
  • mood

The procedure requires multiple steps. First, the doctor places the electrodes. Then, a few days later they implant the wires and battery pack. The electrodes are connected via wires to a pacemaker-like device implanted in the chest that delivers pulses of electricity to the brain. The pulses, which are generally delivered constantly appear to block the firing of neurons and return the brain’s metabolism back to a state of equilibrium. The pacemaker can be programmed and controlled from outside the body by a handheld device.

Although doctors aren’t exactly sure why the pulses help the brain reset, the treatment appears to improve mood and give the person an overall sense of calm.

DBS is an option for people with chronic or treatment-resistant depression. Doctors recommend extended courses of psychotherapy and drug therapy before considering DBS because it involves an invasive surgical procedure and success rates vary. Age usually isn’t an issue, but doctors recommend that you be in good enough health to withstand a major surgery.