Deep-brain stimulation, an electrical treatment increasingly common for degenerative nerve disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, has now shown promise in treating severe depression.
People suffering from depression have a wide range of treatment options, including psychotherapy, drugs, and—in extreme cases—electroconvulsive therapy. According to the American Psychiatric Association, however, about 20 percent of patients don’t respond to any of the standard treatments.
Previous studies by Helen S. Mayberg at Emory University in Atlanta and her colleagues suggested that a brain region known as the subgenual cingulate is overactive in people with treatment-resistant depression.
To determine whether reducing activity in this area could have a positive effect on depression, Mayberg’s team implanted a thin wire into the subgenual cingulate of six depressed people. The wire delivers steady electrical stimulation that jams brain signals that would normally emerge from this region, says Mayberg.
Six months after the operation, four of the patients reported lasting relief from their depression, Mayberg’s team reports in the March 3 Neuron.
Although she stresses that this work is still preliminary, Mayberg notes that deep brain stimulation may eventually treat some types of depression.