Mental Health and Deep Brain Stimulation

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, MD on August 28, 2022
2 min read

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is an evolution of two surgical procedures that have been shown to help control symptoms of certain disorders such as Parkinson's disease, essential tremor, and multiple sclerosis. Researchers are now studying the use of DBS for certain types of mental disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder and major depression, that are resistant to other forms of treatment.

DBS is a neurosurgical procedure that involves implanting electrodes into specific areas of the brain that then deliver electrical stimulation to those areas. Depending on which brain areas are targeted for stimulation, different types of brain functions (such as movement, or anxiety, or emotion) can be affected. For example, in psychiatry, DBS is being used to treat medication-nonresponsive obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), targeting specific brain areas thought to be involved in OCD, such as the nucleus accumbens, the anterior limb of the internal capsule, the inferior thalamic nucleus, and the subthalamic nucleus.  

DBS is also being examined to treat severe depression that is drug-resistant, focusing on brain areas associated with mood, such as the ventral striatum, the nucleus accumbens, the subgenual cingulate cortex, the lateral habenula, the inferior thalamic nucleus, and the medial forebrain bundle.  Apart from the general risks of major surgery (such as pain or infection), DBS risks also include headaches, seizures, confusion, bleeding in the brain, and stroke.

DBS appears to be  a promising but still-experimental consideration for some forms of hard-to-treat mental conditions.  However, more research is needed before it becomes a more "mainstream" treatment for refractory psychiatric disorders.