All three patients at the University Clinics of Bonn and Cologne have been suffering from very severe depression for several years which could neither be brought under control using medication nor by other therapies.

In deep brain stimulation (DBS) electrodes are implanted selectively in certain areas of the brain and are stimulated using an electric pulse generator. In the study, Bonn Professor of Psychiatry, Thomas E. Schläpfer, and colleagues stimulated the patient’s nucleus accumbens. This is an important part of what is known as the “reward system” in the brain. It ensures that we remember good experiences and puts us in a state of pleasurable anticipation.

The researchers implanted electrodes in the nucleus accumbens, which they were able to stimulate using an electric pulse generator in the chest. In the first few days of the DBS the symptoms of depression improved significantly in two of the three patients. Their condition remained constant for as long as they were undergoing treatment. However, as soon as the pulse generator was switched off, the depression recurred with full intensity. “The recurring symptoms were so severe that for ethical reasons we could not permit the treatment to be interrupted for as long as we had originally planned,” Schläpfer emphasises.

The doctors did not observe any side effects like those occurring after the use of antidepressants. The patients only complained about post-operative pain at the site of implantation. In the long term DBS does not seem to pose any major risks.

“With so few patients, these are only fairly preliminary results,” Schläpfer says. “One thing has certainly been demonstrated by our research and that of others: DBS can help some people with depression even in cases which were assumed to be resistant to therapy.”

MEDICA.de; Source: Bonn University