Background: In many patients with idiopathic Parkinson's disease, treatment with levodopa is complicated by fluctuations between an "off" period, when the medication is not working and the motor symptoms of parkinsonism are present, and an "on" period, when the medication is causing improved mobility, often accompanied by debilitating dyskinesias. In animal models of Parkinson's disease, there is overactivity in the subthalamic nucleus, and electrical stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus improves parkinsonism. We therefore sought to determine the efficacy and safety of electrical stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus in patients with Parkinson's disease.
Methods: We studied 24 patients with idiopathic Parkinson's disease in whom electrodes were implanted bilaterally in the subthalamic nucleus under stereotactic guidance with imaging and electrophysiologic testing of the location. Twenty were followed for at least 12 months. Clinical evaluations included the Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale, a dyskinesia scale, and timed tests conducted before and after surgery, when patients were off and on medications.
Results: After one year of electrical stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus, the patients' scores for activities of daily living and motor examination scores (Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale parts II and III, respectively) off medication improved by 60 percent (P<0.001). The subscores improved for limb akinesia, rigidity, tremor, and gait. In the testing done on medication, the scores on part III improved by 10 percent (P<0.005). The mean dose of dopaminergic drugs was reduced by half. The cognitive-performance scores remained unchanged, but one patient had paralysis and aphasia after an intracerebral hematoma during the implantation procedure.
Conclusions: Electrical stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus is an effective treatment for advanced Parkinson's disease. The severity of symptoms off medication decreases, and the dose of levodopa can be reduced with consequent reduction in dyskinesias.