Deep brain stimulation (DBS) of the subthalamic nucleus (STN) or the internal segment of the globus pallidus (GPi) has recently been recognized as an important form of intervention for alleviating motor symptoms associated with Parkinson's disease, but the mechanism underlying its effectiveness remains unknown. Using a computational model, this paper considers the hypothesis that DBS works by replacing pathologically rhythmic basal ganglia output with tonic, high frequency firing. In our simulations of parkinsonian conditions, rhythmic inhibition from GPi to the thalamus compromises the ability of thalamocortical relay (TC) cells to respond to depolarizing inputs, such as sensorimotor signals. High frequency stimulation of STN regularizes GPi firing, and this restores TC responsiveness, despite the increased frequency and amplitude of GPi inhibition to thalamus that result. We provide a mathematical phase plane analysis of the mechanisms that determine TC relay capabilities in normal, parkinsonian, and DBS states in a reduced model. This analysis highlights the differences in deinactivation of the low-threshold calcium T -current that we observe in TC cells in these different conditions. Alternative scenarios involving convergence of thalamic signals in the cortex are also discussed, and predictions associated with these results, including the occurrence of rhythmic rebound bursts in certain TC cells in parkinsonian states and their drastic reduction by DBS, are stated. These results demonstrate how DBS could work by increasing firing rates of target cells, rather than shutting them down.
Copyright 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers