Persistent synaptic inhibition of the subthalamic nucleus by high frequency stimulation

Brain Stimul. 2022 Sep-Oct;15(5):1223-1232. doi: 10.1016/j.brs.2022.08.020. Epub 2022 Sep 2.


Background: Deep brain stimulation (DBS) provides symptomatic relief in a growing number of neurological indications, but local synaptic dynamics in response to electrical stimulation that may relate to its mechanism of action have not been fully characterized.

Objective: The objectives of this study were to (1) study local synaptic dynamics during high frequency extracellular stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus (STN), and (2) compare STN synaptic dynamics with those of the neighboring substantia nigra pars reticulata (SNr).

Methods: Two microelectrodes were advanced into the STN and SNr of patients undergoing DBS surgery for Parkinson's disease (PD). Neuronal firing and evoked field potentials (fEPs) were recorded with one microelectrode during stimulation from an adjacent microelectrode.

Results: Inhibitory fEPs could be discerned within the STN and their amplitudes predicted bidirectional effects on neuronal firing (p = .013). There were no differences between STN and SNr inhibitory fEP dynamics at low stimulation frequencies (p > .999). However, inhibitory neuronal responses were sustained over time in STN during high frequency stimulation but not in SNr (p < .001) where depression of inhibitory input was coupled with a return of neuronal firing (p = .003).

Interpretation: Persistent inhibitory input to the STN suggests a local synaptic mechanism for the suppression of subthalamic firing during high frequency stimulation. Moreover, differences in the resiliency versus vulnerability of inhibitory inputs to the STN and SNr suggest a projection source- and frequency-specificity for this mechanism. The feasibility of targeting electrophysiologically-identified neural structures may provide insight into how DBS achieves frequency-specific modulation of neuronal projections.

Keywords: Deep brain stimulation; Parkinson's disease; Substantia nigra pars reticulata; Subthalamic nucleus; Synaptic depression; Synaptic dynamics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Deep Brain Stimulation*
  • Humans
  • Microelectrodes
  • Parkinson Disease* / therapy
  • Substantia Nigra
  • Subthalamic Nucleus* / physiology