Deep Brain Stimulation

Part of the Brain: The Inside Story exhibition.

Normally, a brain region is activated by signals from other neurons. But neurons can also be stimulated electrically. How is this done? Who may benefit?

How it Works


©Richard Tibbitts/Antbits

Doctors can now activate or deactivate certain brain regions by surgically inserting a wire into the brain and sending in pulses of electricity--a procedure known as deep brain stimulation (DBS). Unlike drugs, which spread widely in the brain, DBS affects only a tiny, carefully targeted area.

Over 80,000 people have already used DBS to treat Parkinson's disease, a condition that causes a person's limbs to shake uncontrollably. These implants allow Parkinson's patients to turn their tremors off electronically. DBS has also been used to curb the behaviors of patients suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which causes anxiously repeated movements such as hand-washing

While DBS is already being used to treat serious brain disorders, more uses are being studied. DBS has been used experimentally to treat depression. One clinically depressed patient who tried DBS surgery as a last resort reported that, as electrical stimulation was applied to a pea-sized area in her cingulate cortex, her mood instantly changed. “It was literally like a switch being turned on,” she explained. Doctors are also researching how DBS could be used to treat a variety of other conditions, including Alzheimer's disease, Epilepsy, Tourette's syndrome, obesity, cluster headaches, addictions, and chronic pain.