Background: Deep brain stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus (STN DBS) is an increasingly common treatment for Parkinson's disease. Qualitative reviews have concluded that diminished verbal fluency is common after STN DBS, but that changes in global cognitive abilities, attention, executive functions, and memory are only inconsistently observed and, when present, often nominal or transient. We did a quantitative meta-analysis to improve understanding of the variability and clinical significance of cognitive dysfunction after STN DBS.
Methods: We searched MedLine, PsycLIT, and ISI Web of Science electronic databases for articles published between 1990 and 2006, and extracted information about number of patients, exclusion criteria, confirmation of target by microelectrode recording, verification of electrode placement via radiographic means, stimulation parameters, assessment time points, assessment measures, whether patients were on levodopa or dopaminomimetics, and summary statistics needed for computation of effect sizes. We used the random-effects meta-analytical model to assess continuous outcomes before and after STN DBS.
Findings: Of 40 neuropsychological studies identified, 28 cohort studies (including 612 patients) were eligible for inclusion in the meta-analysis. After adjusting for heterogeneity of variance in study effect sizes, the random effects meta-analysis revealed significant, albeit small, declines in executive functions and verbal learning and memory. Moderate declines were only reported in semantic (Cohen's d 0.73) and phonemic verbal fluency (0.51). Changes in verbal fluency were not related to patient age, disease duration, stimulation parameters, or change in dopaminomimetic dose after surgery.
Interpretation: STN DBS, in selected patients, seems relatively safe from a cognitive standpoint. However, difficulty in identification of factors underlying changes in verbal fluency draws attention to the need for uniform and detailed reporting of patient selection, demographic, disease, treatment, surgical, stimulation, and clinical outcome parameters.