How Does Deep Brain Stimulation Work? Present Understanding and Future Questions
High-frequency deep brain stimulation (DBS) of the thalamus or basal ganglia represents an effective clinical technique for the treatment of several medically refractory movement disorders (e.g., Parkinson's disease, essential tremor, and dystonia). In addition, new clinical applications of DBS for other neurologic and psychiatric disorders (e.g., epilepsy and obsessive-compulsive disorder) have been vaulted forward. Although DBS has been effective in the treatment of movement disorders and is rapidly being explored for the treatment of other neurologic disorders, the scientific understanding of its mechanisms of action remains unclear and continues to be debated in the scientific community. Optimization of DBS technology for present and future therapeutic applications will depend on identification of the therapeutic mechanism(s) of action. The goal of this review is to address the present knowledge of the effects of high frequency stimulation within the central nervous system and comment on the functional implications of this knowledge for uncovering the mechanism(s) of DBS. Four general hypotheses have been developed to explain the mechanism(s) of DBS: depolarization blockade, synaptic inhibition, synaptic depression, and stimulation-induced modulation of pathologic network activity. Using the results from microdialysis, neural recording, functional imaging, and neural modeling experiments, the authors address the main hypotheses and attempt to reconcile what have been considered conflicting results from different research modalities.
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