Deep brain stimulation for psychiatric disorders: From focal brain targets to cognitive networks

Neuroimage. 2021 Jan 15;225:117515. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.117515. Epub 2020 Nov 1.


Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a promising intervention for treatment-resistant psychiatric disorders, particularly major depressive disorder (MDD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Up to 90% of patients who have not recovered with therapy or medication have reported benefit from DBS in open-label studies. Response rates in randomized controlled trials (RCTs), however, have been much lower. This has been argued to arise from surgical variability between sites, and recent psychiatric DBS research has focused on refining targeting through personalized imaging. Much less attention has been given to the fact that psychiatric disorders arise from dysfunction in distributed brain networks, and that DBS likely acts by altering communication within those networks. This is in part because psychiatric DBS research relies on subjective rating scales that make it difficult to identify network biomarkers. Here, we overview recent DBS RCT results in OCD and MDD, as well as the follow-on imaging studies. We present evidence for a new approach to studying DBS' mechanisms of action, focused on measuring objective cognitive/emotional deficits that underpin these and many other mental disorders. Further, we suggest that a focus on cognition could lead to reliable network biomarkers at an electrophysiologic level, especially those related to inter-regional synchrony of the local field potential (LFP). Developing the network neuroscience of DBS has the potential to finally unlock the potential of this highly specific therapy.

Keywords: Cognitive neuroscience; Deep brain stimulation; Electrophysiology; Neurostimulation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Deep Brain Stimulation / methods*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / physiopathology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy*
  • Gyrus Cinguli*
  • Humans
  • Internal Capsule*
  • Medial Forebrain Bundle*
  • Neural Pathways
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / physiopathology
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / therapy*
  • Subthalamic Nucleus*
  • Ventral Striatum*