Does DBS Cause Changes in Personality?

Since 2002, deep brain stimulation (DBS), the surgical implantation of a pacemaker-like device that sends electrical impulses to targeted parts of the brain, has been used as a treatment for motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD). But are patients trading part of their sense of self in exchange for improved mobility?

Packed house for INS annual meeting talk on DBS.

In the last decade, a growing number of published articles have raised the concern of personality changes in PD patients as a result of DBS, and tried to discern if the concern is real or overblown. At Thursday’s International Neuroethics Society (INS) meeting discussion “DBS: Continuity of Self,” panelists aimed to add clarity to the debate. “Speculation shouldn’t be divorced from clinical reality,” said panel moderator and ethicist Hannah Maslen, who introduced the session.

The speakers, philosopher and neuroethicist Frederic Gilbert, neuropsychologist Cynthia Kubu, behavioral neurologist Winston Chiong, and ethics researcher Jonathan Pugh, offered a range of perspectives. They largely focused on the state of the evidence and why it’s so difficult to assess personality changes in patients.

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New Method Reaches Deep in the Brain Without Surgery

A team of neuroscientists and engineers are working to develop a new form of treatment for people who have Parkinson’s disease, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. According to a recent New York Times article, the available methods for treating these conditions currently involve the risks of surgery and can have limited ability with directing electrical pulses to the right areas of the brain.

Dana Alliance member Helen Mayberg, tells the Times:

They have this clever new way to deliver current[s] to a spot of interest deep in the brain and do it without invading the brain…If you didn’t have to actually open up somebody’s brain and put something in it, if it could do what we’re doing now just as well—sign me up.

So far the research has only been conducted in mice, but experts are hoping the technique will work for people, too. “This is something that many of us in the field have wished for for a long time,” says Alexander Rotenberg. Rotenberg is director of the neuromodulation program at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. The article goes on to explain the details of the non-invasive treatment:

The method, called temporal interference, involves beaming different electric frequencies, too high for neurons to respond to, from electrodes on the skull’s surface. The team found that where the currents intersected inside the brain, the frequencies interfered with each other, essentially canceling out all but the difference between them and leaving a low-frequency current that neurons in that location responded to.

For more information on the experimental study, read the full article here.

– Seimi Rurup

From the Archives: Imaging Depression

This month, Helen Mayberg and her colleagues published a study suggesting that patterns of brain connectivity may predict which people with depression would respond best to talk therapy and which would do better with a drug. This video clip from Fox5 Atlanta describes the study, and shows what it could mean to people who need help for their depression.

Our first work with Mayberg, now a member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, was more than a decade ago, when she was using first positron emission tomography and then deep brain stimulation for treatment-resistant depression (Dana grants in 2006, 2010). She spoke with us about this work in 2012:

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New Cerebrum Article Looks at Biomarkers for Depression

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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From the Archives: Neuromodulation

Tiefe_Hirnstimulation_-_Sonden_RoeSchaedel_seitlCredit: Hellerhoff/Wikimedia

Some people with Parkinson’s disease or intractible depression have shown great improvement using implanted and external brain stimulation. In our news story “Stimulating the Brain: From If to How,” writer Carl Sherman describes how researchers are diving down, to improve treatment methods and to discover what, exactly, stimulating the brain does:

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