Deep Brain Stimulation: More Complex than the Inhibition of Cells and Excitation of Fibers

Neuroscientist. 2016 Aug;22(4):332-45. doi: 10.1177/1073858415591964. Epub 2015 Jul 6.


High-frequency deep brain stimulation (DBS) is an effective treatment for some movement disorders. Though mechanisms underlying DBS are still unclear, commonly accepted theories include a "functional inhibition" of neuronal cell bodies and the excitation of axonal projections near the electrodes. It is becoming clear, however, that the paradoxical dissociation "local inhibition" and "distant excitation" is far more complex than initially thought. Despite an initial increase in neuronal activity following stimulation, cells are often unable to maintain normal ionic concentrations, particularly those of sodium and potassium. Based on currently available evidence, we proposed an alternative hypothesis. Increased extracellular concentrations of potassium during DBS may change the dynamics of both cells and axons, contributing not only to the intermittent excitation and inhibition of these elements but also to interrupt abnormal pathological activity. In this article, we review mechanisms through which high extracellular potassium may mediate some of the effects of DBS.

Keywords: Parkinson’s disease; axon; deep brain stimulation; depolarization block; neuron; potassium.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials*
  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cortical Excitability*
  • Deep Brain Stimulation*
  • Humans
  • Neural Conduction
  • Neural Inhibition*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Potassium / physiology


  • Potassium