Neuronal inhibition and synaptic plasticity of basal ganglia neurons in Parkinson's disease

Brain. 2018 Jan 1;141(1):177-190. doi: 10.1093/brain/awx296.


Deep brain stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus is an effective treatment for Parkinson's disease symptoms. The therapeutic benefits of deep brain stimulation are frequency-dependent, but the underlying physiological mechanisms remain unclear. To advance deep brain stimulation therapy an understanding of fundamental mechanisms is critical. The objectives of this study were to (i) compare the frequency-dependent effects on cell firing in subthalamic nucleus and substantia nigra pars reticulata; (ii) quantify frequency-dependent effects on short-term plasticity in substantia nigra pars reticulata; and (iii) investigate effects of continuous long-train high frequency stimulation (comparable to conventional deep brain stimulation) on synaptic plasticity. Two closely spaced (600 µm) microelectrodes were advanced into the subthalamic nucleus (n = 27) and substantia nigra pars reticulata (n = 14) of 22 patients undergoing deep brain stimulation surgery for Parkinson's disease. Cell firing and evoked field potentials were recorded with one microelectrode during stimulation trains from the adjacent microelectrode across a range of frequencies (1-100 Hz, 100 µA, 0.3 ms, 50-60 pulses). Subthalamic firing attenuated with ≥20 Hz (P < 0.01) stimulation (silenced at 100 Hz), while substantia nigra pars reticulata decreased with ≥3 Hz (P < 0.05) (silenced at 50 Hz). Substantia nigra pars reticulata also exhibited a more prominent increase in transient silent period following stimulation. Patients with longer silent periods after 100 Hz stimulation in the subthalamic nucleus tended to have better clinical outcome after deep brain stimulation. At ≥30 Hz the first evoked field potential of the stimulation train in substantia nigra pars reticulata was potentiated (P < 0.05); however, the average amplitude of the subsequent potentials was rapidly attenuated (P < 0.01). This is suggestive of synaptic facilitation followed by rapid depression. Paired pulse ratios calculated at the beginning of the train revealed that 20 Hz (P < 0.05) was the minimum frequency required to induce synaptic depression. Lastly, the average amplitude of evoked field potentials during 1 Hz pulses showed significant inhibitory synaptic potentiation after long-train high frequency stimulation (P < 0.001) and these increases were coupled with increased durations of neuronal inhibition (P < 0.01). The subthalamic nucleus exhibited a higher frequency threshold for stimulation-induced inhibition than the substantia nigra pars reticulata likely due to differing ratios of GABA:glutamate terminals on the soma and/or the nature of their GABAergic inputs (pallidal versus striatal). We suggest that enhancement of inhibitory synaptic plasticity, and frequency-dependent potentiation and depression are putative mechanisms of deep brain stimulation. Furthermore, we foresee that future closed-loop deep brain stimulation systems (with more frequent off stimulation periods) may benefit from inhibitory synaptic potentiation that occurs after high frequency stimulation.

Keywords: Parkinson’s disease; clinical neurophysiology; deep brain stimulation; neurosurgery; subthalamic nucleus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Basal Ganglia / pathology*
  • Biophysics
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microelectrodes
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Parkinson Disease / pathology*
  • Parkinson Disease / therapy
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Subthalamic Nucleus / pathology
  • Time Factors

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