Regional electric field induced by electroconvulsive therapy in a realistic finite element head model: influence of white matter anisotropic conductivity

Neuroimage. 2012 Feb 1;59(3):2110-23. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.10.029. Epub 2011 Oct 18.


We present the first computational study investigating the electric field (E-field) strength generated by various electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) electrode configurations in specific brain regions of interest (ROIs) that have putative roles in the therapeutic action and/or adverse side effects of ECT. This study also characterizes the impact of the white matter (WM) conductivity anisotropy on the E-field distribution. A finite element head model incorporating tissue heterogeneity and WM anisotropic conductivity was constructed based on structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and diffusion tensor MRI data. We computed the spatial E-field distributions generated by three standard ECT electrode placements including bilateral (BL), bifrontal (BF), and right unilateral (RUL) and an investigational electrode configuration for focal electrically administered seizure therapy (FEAST). The key results are that (1) the median E-field strength over the whole brain is 3.9, 1.5, 2.3, and 2.6 V/cm for the BL, BF, RUL, and FEAST electrode configurations, respectively, which coupled with the broad spread of the BL E-field suggests a biophysical basis for observations of superior efficacy of BL ECT compared to BF and RUL ECT; (2) in the hippocampi, BL ECT produces a median E-field of 4.8 V/cm that is 1.5-2.8 times stronger than that for the other electrode configurations, consistent with the more pronounced amnestic effects of BL ECT; and (3) neglecting the WM conductivity anisotropy results in E-field strength error up to 18% overall and up to 39% in specific ROIs, motivating the inclusion of the WM conductivity anisotropy in accurate head models. This computational study demonstrates how the realistic finite element head model incorporating tissue conductivity anisotropy provides quantitative insight into the biophysics of ECT, which may shed light on the differential clinical outcomes seen with various forms of ECT, and may guide the development of novel stimulation paradigms with improved risk/benefit ratio.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anisotropy
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Electric Conductivity
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Electrodes
  • Electromagnetic Fields*
  • Finite Element Analysis
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Head / anatomy & histology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Models, Anatomic
  • Models, Statistical