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article imageNew approach to treating depression with brain implants

By Tim Sandle     Dec 1, 2018 in Science
For several years researchers have been looking at the application of deep brain stimulation to treat depression, with mixed results. A new study signals a breakthrough, based on a new target.
Deep brain stimulation is a technique that is being investigated by neurosurgeons in order to adjust the neural activity in specific brain regions. The aim is to apply the technology in order to treat patients with a myriad neurological disorders, including depression. As research has shown, success depends critically on target selection.
Examples of deep brain stimulation have been featured previously in Digital Journal's science pages. These include investigations into a patient suffering from Parkinson’s disease, where stimulation via a surgically implanted electrode produced beneficial effects. A second example was with a study whereby electrodes implanted deep in the brain of a boy with severe autism have enabled the boy to live a more controlled life.
The new study comes from University of California, San Francisco and it involves the application of deep brain stimulation to help treat depression, according to Gizmodo.
The research began with scientists investigating the effects of brain stimulation on mood state in epilepsy patients, using implanted electrodes. This also demonstrated that lateral stimulation of the orbitofrontal cortex brain region improved mood state in subjects with depression symptom. The orbitofrontal cortex is a prefrontal cortex region in the frontal lobes in the brain which is involved in the cognitive processing of decision-making.
The effects of the stimulation induced neural features associated with positive mood states, leading the scientists to conclude that lateral orbitofrontal cortex stimulation is a promising new stimulation target for treatment of mood disorders. Of the patients subjected to the treatment so far, those with moderate-to-severe depression symptoms did seem to have their mood boosted within minutes of having the OFC stimulated.
The new research has been published in the journal Current Biology. The paper is titled "Direct Electrical Stimulation of Lateral Orbitofrontal Cortex Acutely Improves Mood in Individuals with Symptoms of Depression."
More about Depression, brain implants, Brain, Mental health, deep brain stimulation
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