2003 Breakthrough: DBS, A 'Pacemaker for the Brain' to Treat Depression

Helen Mayberg, M.D.
Helen Mayberg, M.D.

Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) was developed in the late 1980s; however it was not tested as a potential treatment for resistant depression until Helen Mayberg, M.D., used a NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grant in 2003 to do pilot studies. Dr. Mayberg hypothesized that DBS could be targeted to a section of the brain called the subcallosal cingulated (also known as “Brodmann Area 25”) that she had identified as linked to depression in earlier research. By targeting this area, depression symptoms in patients have been greatly reduced and in some cases patients are in complete remission.

In DBS, a pair of electrodes is implanted in the brain and connected by wires to a pair of pulsing devices in the chest (this is why it is sometimes described as a pacemaker for the brain). The electrodes emit a sort of jamming signal to brain circuits thought to be involved in depression, while leaving other circuits intact.

Read a "Research News Update" about Deep Brain Stimulation.

Read a scientific summary of Dr. Mayberg's original study.

NPR featured a great article on the advancements of DBS and Dr. Mayberg's work.

Recovery Story:
Read "A Remarkable Journey" about a life saved by DBS

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Please note that researchers cannot give specific recommendations or advice about treatment; diagnosis and treatment are complex and highly individualized processes that require comprehensive face-to- face assessment. Please visit our "Ask an Expert" section to see a list of Q & A with NARSAD Grantees.
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