Deep brain stimulation, or DBS, is a technique used to manage Parkinson’s disease and certain types of seizures, but now, researchers have successfully used it to treat depression for the first time. Scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, published a study detailing how they used DBS to treat a 36-year-old woman who has been living with depression since childhood. The patient is reporting immediate relief following the treatment.
DBS works by transmitting electrical impulses to balance out erratic patterns of brain activity associated with whatever condition is being addressed. Much like a pacemaker, the impulses are transmitted through electrodes implanted in the brain.
Researchers identified the specific brain activity patterns associated with a patient’s depressive state. In this patient’s case, the patterns were found in the ventral striatum, a structure involved in decision making, and the amygdala, the emotional response center.
The researchers note that the high cost and effort associated with this method will make it difficult to scale up, but their work offers important insights into the relationship between the brain’s physical structure and mental health conditions. Even if implanted electrodes are not an option for everyone, the insights they provide could inform other more accessible therapy options.
The study patient, who goes by Sarah, continues to experience relief a year on from the implant’s placement and said, “The expression made me realize that my depression was not a moral failing. It was a disorder that could be treated, and there was hope for my recovery.”
Source study: Nature Medicine – Closed-loop neuromodulation in an individual with treatment-resistant depression