Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a widespread, severe, debilitating disorder that markedly diminishes quality of life. Medication is commonly effective, but 20-30 % of patients are refractory to medical therapy. The surgical treatment of psychiatric disorders has a negative stigma associated with it owing to historical abuses. Various ablative surgeries for MDD have been attempted with marginal success, but these studies lacked standardized outcome measures. The recent development of neuromodulation therapy, especially deep brain stimulation (DBS), has enabled controlled studies with sham stimulation and presents a potential therapeutic option that is both reversible and adjustable. We performed a systematic review of the literature pertaining to DBS for treatment-resistant depression to evaluate the safety and efficacy of this procedure. We included only studies using validated outcome measures. Our review identified 22 clinical research papers with 5 unique DBS approaches using different targets, including nucleus accumbens, ventral striatum/ventral capsule, subgenual cingulate cortex, lateral habenula, inferior thalamic nucleus, and medial forebrain bundle. Among the 22 published studies, only 3 were controlled trials, and 2, as yet unpublished, multicenter, randomized, controlled trials evaluating the efficacy of subgenual cingulate cortex and ventral striatum/ventral capsule DBS were recently discontinued owing to inefficacy based on futility analyses. Overall, the published response rate to DBS therapy, defined as the percentage of patients with > 50 % improvement on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, is reported to be 40-70 %, and outcomes were comparable across studies. We conclude that DBS for MDD shows promise, but remains experimental and further accumulation of data is warranted.