Background: Increased neuronal activity in the subthalamic nucleus and the pars interna of the globus pallidus is thought to account for motor dysfunction in patients with Parkinson's disease. Although creating lesions in these structures improves motor function in monkeys with induced parkinsonism and patients with Parkinson's disease, such lesions are associated with neurologic deficits, particularly when they are created bilaterally. Deep-brain stimulation simulates the effects of a lesion without destroying brain tissue.
Methods: We performed a prospective, double-blind, crossover study in patients with advanced Parkinson's disease, in whom electrodes were implanted in the subthalamic nucleus or pars interna of the globus pallidus and who then underwent bilateral high-frequency deep-brain stimulation. We compared scores on the motor portion of the Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale when the stimulation was randomly assigned to be turned on or off. We performed unblinded evaluations of motor function preoperatively and one, three, and six months postoperatively.
Results: Electrodes were implanted bilaterally in 96 patients in the subthalamic-nucleus group and 38 patients in the globus-pallidus group. Three months after the procedures were performed, double-blind, crossover evaluations demonstrated that stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus was associated with a median improvement in the motor score (as compared with no stimulation) of 49 percent, and stimulation of the pars interna of the globus pallidus with a median improvement of 37 percent (P<0.001 for both comparisons). Between the preoperative and six-month visits, the percentage of time during the day that patients had good mobility without involuntary movements increased from 27 percent to 74 percent (P<0.001) with subthalamic stimulation and from 28 percent to 64 percent (P<0.001) with pallidal stimulation. Adverse events included intracranial hemorrhage in seven patients and infection necessitating removal of the leads in two.
Conclusions: Bilateral stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus or pars interna of the globus pallidus is associated with significant improvement in motor function in patients with Parkinson's disease whose condition cannot be further improved with medical therapy.