Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a procedure in which electric impulses are sent along wires directly into part of the brain. This has been shown to be effective in the treatment of movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease, essential tremor, and dystonia. Deep brain stimulation is also under active investigation for use in depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and chronic pain, with promising initial results.
A recent study published in the Archives of Neurology evaluated the effects of deep brain stimulation in patients with Alzheimer's disease. Like so many other studies evaluation this technique, the initial results are promising. However, also like many other treatments for Alzheimer's disease, DBS does not seem to stop the disease so much as slow its progression.
The study involved placement of electrical leads targeting the fornix, an area of the brain tied with memory formation. The study looked at PET scans of the brain to see how patterns of brain activity changed over time. More importantly, the study looked at cognitive testing of these patients as well. The study results suggest that neural networks are more active in those who receive DBS, and that they may have had better cognitive scores as well.
However, this study was extremely small, looking at only six patients. Usually, larger studies are required to produce reliable imaging results using PET scans, and much larger studies are required in order to determine if a treatment is effective. In other words, these results are far from conclusive, and only serve to potentially lend us direction in further research. However, in a disease where the best available treatments are only minimally helpful, every glimmer of hope and progress is welcome.
Gwenn S. Smith; Adrian W. Laxton; David F. Tang-Wai; Mary Pat McAndrews; Andreea Oliviana Diaconescu; Clifford I. Workman; Andres M. Lozano. Increased Cerebral Metabolism After 1 Year of Deep Brain Stimulation in Alzheimer Disease. Arch Neurol., May 7, 2012