Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a surgical treatment involving the implantation of a medical device called a brain pacemaker, which sends electrical impulses to specific parts of the brain.
DBS in select brain regions has provided remarkable therapeutic benefits for otherwise treatment-resistant movement and affective disorders such as chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease, tremor and dystonia. Despite the long history of DBS, its underlying principles and mechanisms are still not clear. DBS directly changes brain activity in a controlled manner, its effects are reversible (unlike those of lesioning techniques) and is one of only a few neurosurgical methods that allows blinded studies
- The deep brain stimulation system consists of three components: the implanted pulse generator (IPG), the lead, and the extension. The IPG is a battery-powered neurostimulator encased in a titanium housing, which sends electrical pulses to the brain to interfere with neural activity at the target site. The lead is a coiled wire insulated in polyurethane with four platinum iridium electrodes and is placed in one of three areas of the brain. The lead is connected to the IPG by the extension, an insulated wire that runs from the head, down the side of the neck, behind the ear to the IPG, which is placed subcutaneously below the clavicle or in some cases, the abdomen. The IPG can be calibrated by a neurologist, nurse or trained technician to optimize symptom suppression and control side effects.
- All three components are surgically implanted inside the body. Under local anaesthesia, a hole about 14 mm in diameter is drilled in the skull and the electrode is inserted, with feedback from the patient for optimal placement. The installation of the IPG and lead occurs under general anaesthesia. The right side of the brain is stimulated to address symptoms on the left side of the body and vice versa .
- DBS does not cure Parkinson’s, but it can help manage some of its symptoms and subsequently improve the patient’s quality of life. At present, the procedure is used only for patients whose symptoms cannot be adequately controlled with medications, or whose medications have severe side effects. Its direct effect on the physiology of brain cells and neurotransmitters is currently debated, but by sending high frequency electrical impulses into specific areas of the brain it can mitigate symptoms and/or directly diminish the side effects induced by Parkinsonian medications, allowing a decrease in medications, or making a medication regimen more tolerable.
- There are a few sites in the brain that can be targeted to achieve differing results, so each patient must be assessed individually, and a site will be chosen based on their needs. Traditionally, the two most common sites are the subthalamic nucleus (STN) and the globus pallidus interna (GPi), but other sites, such as the caudal zona incerta and the pallidofugal fibers medial to the STN, are being evaluated and showing promise.
Specialist A Neurosurgeon