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Stimulating Depression Relief

Two small electrodes delivering electrical impulses directly to the brain eases the symptoms of some people with severe chronic depression.

By Anita Slomski // The MGH Research Issue 2011

In a small MGH study, 30% of patients with severe chronic depression went into remission after undergoing deep brain stimulation. In the procedure, electrodes 1 mm in diameter are implanted on either side of the brain. Wires from each electrode connect to a device called a pulse generator, implanted under the skin below the clavicle. The generator delivers electrical impulses to the brain, stimulating areas that are less active than normal in depressed people and enhancing the release of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.

MGH neurosurgeon Emad Eskandar and his colleagues discovered that targeting an area of the brain called the ventral striatum while using DBS for relief of obsessive-compulsive disorder treated depression as well. About 65% of the people with OCD also have severe depression; for some of them, using DBS to treat their OCD treated the depression too. In a pilot study, he and researchers at two other centers implanted 17 people with DBS devices. Half had a greater than 50% improvement in scores on tests measuring the severity of their depression, and 30% were no longer depressed at all. Eskandar and others are now conducting a prospective randomized clinical trial in a larger group of patients.

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