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Implanting Electrodes in the Brain Could Help Treat Severe Depression

Implanting electrodes in the brain could help treat people who are suffering from severe depression, but do not succeed in responding to traditional treatment.

Thomas Schlaepfer, professor of psychiatry and psychotherapy at University Hospital in Bonn, Germany and associate professor of psychiatry and mental health at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, and his team are examining the prospects of deep brain stimulation, a therapy used to treat tremors associated with Parkinson's disease, to treat depression.

The idea behind the study is to rearrange disordered neural activity in the brain in a parallel way to how a person might reboot a computer to terminate a problem.

The system consists of a neurostimulator, a device about the size of a hockey puck that is rooted in the chest wall. Wires attached to the stimulator run under the skin to two electrodes that are put in through small holes in the skull and joined to the bone.

The stimulator, which can be operated by the patient, carries electrical current to the electrodes. Depending on its force and frequency, the current controls brain activity in a specific area.

Because a significant symptom of major depression is anhedonia, the inability to find delight from activities formerly experienced as delightful, Schlaepfer's group concentrated on the brain's reward center, a region called the nucleus accumbens, which responds to stimuli from such things as food, sex, and some drugs.

During their most recent study, the researchers surgically implanted the system into three individuals who experienced major depression and who had not responded to other treatments, including drugs of electroconvulsive therapy.

All the patients reported that they sensed no sensations when the stimulator was turned on. They also reported that they felt no changes in their condition after the stimulator was turned on. Yet al
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