Study evaluating Deep Brain Stimulation for depression treatment reaches important milestone


U-M researchers have successfully completed the first surgical implantation of a Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) system as part of a nationwide clinical trial examining DBS’s ability to help patients with severe depression that has not improved after multiple treatments.

A DBS system uses a neurosurgically implanted medical device to deliver mild electrical stimulation to small, targeted areas in the brain, much like how a pacemaker uses pulses of current to help regulate the heart. In this study, the DBS system’s target is a structure in the brain known as Brodmann Area 25 (BA25), an area which appears to be overactive when people are profoundly sad and depressed and is believed to function differently in people with major depression.

At U-M, the study is being conducted by the Departments of Psychiatry and Neurosurgery and the Depression Center. Stephan Taylor, M.D., professor of psychiatry, and Parag Patil, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of neurosurgery, are co-leading the investigative team.


DBS is currently used to treat the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, other movement disorders, and severe cases of obsessive compulsive disorder. Dr. Patil performs about 30-40 DBS procedures each year.

DBS is just one type of “neuromodulation” technique in which electrical or magnetic currents are used to stimulate the brain and alter brain activity, which can help relieve symptoms of depression and other conditions. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has been an effective treatment for severe depression since the 1930s, and repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) was approved by the FDA in 2008 for the treatment of major depression that has failed to improve after one treatment course. Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), FDA-approved in 2005 for the treatment of depression and bipolar disorder, uses electrical impulses to stimulate centers in the brain that regulate mood, sleep, appetite and motivation through a surgically implanted pulse generator in the upper chest. Each of these treatments is currently offered through the Department of Psychiatry.

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