Deep brain stimulation (DBS) represents a major advance in the treatment of various severe movement disorders or neuropsychiatric diseases. Our understanding of the mechanism of action of this surgical treatment has greatly benefited from functional imaging studies. Most of these studies have been conducted in patients with Parkinson's disease (PD) treated by bilateral subthalamic nucleus (STN) stimulation. These studies have notably underlined the fact that STN stimulation influences motor, limbic, or associative cortical-subcortical loops in various (sometimes contradictory) ways. We present an up-to-date review of the information provided by functional imaging studies in surgery for PD, dystonia, tremor, as well as in psychiatric disorders such as depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder. On the basis of this information, proposed mechanisms of action of DBS are discussed, as well as the need for additional approaches such as improved anatomical localization of the contact used for stimulation or a better understanding of the electrical distribution around the electrode.