Autopsy analysis of the safety, efficacy and cartography of electrical stimulation of the central gray in humans

Brain Res. 1986 Apr 23;371(2):231-6. doi: 10.1016/0006-8993(86)90358-6.


Electrical brain stimulation is effective in controlling certain intractable chronic pain syndromes in humans, but the specific target site(s) for stimulation producing a maximal analgesic effect is (are) not well defined. This prospective study correlates the clinical results of chronic stimulation of the periaqueductal gray (PAG) and periventricular gray (PVG) matter in humans with the anatomic site of electrode placement as determined at autopsy, and documents the histologic reactions to electrode implantation and electrical stimulation of the area. Seven patients underwent electrode implantation to control their chronic pain; two had electrodes implanted bilaterally. All patients obtained complete analgesia with stimulation, although 3 subsequently found the stimulation to have diminished efficacy. The opiate antagonist naloxone reversed the analgesia in the 4 patients so tested. All 7 patients later died of causes unrelated to electrode implantation or stimulation. Postmortem analysis showed that, for 6 of the 9 electrodes implanted, the electrode tip was located in the ventrolateral PAG at the level of the posterior commissure; the other 3 electrodes were found in the white matter adjacent to the PAG. No evidence of gliosis or parenchymal reaction was observed along the tracts and tips of the electrodes. The results indicate that the ventrolateral PAG and PVG matter at the level of the posterior commissure is the optimal site for therapeutic electrical brain stimulation for opiate-responsive pain in humans.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Carcinoma / pathology*
  • Carcinoma / therapy
  • Diabetic Neuropathies / pathology*
  • Diabetic Neuropathies / therapy
  • Electric Stimulation / adverse effects
  • Electric Stimulation / instrumentation
  • Electric Stimulation / methods*
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy / adverse effects
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy / instrumentation
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy / methods
  • Electrodes, Implanted
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Periaqueductal Gray / physiopathology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Time Factors