Tiny Nerve Structure Stimulation Tested for Treating Depression

As depression can wreak havoc for an individual as well as close family and friends, it is important to understand the affect it can have and the best way to treat associated symptoms. Now, one team of neurosurgeons may have discovered a way to use brain surgery to treat severe depression.

Science Daily recently posted a release examining the work of this team and Heidelberg University Hospital that included psychiatrists at the Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim. This team treated a patient suffering from severe depression by stimulating the habenula, a tiny nerve structure in the brain.

The patient was a 64 year-old-woman who had suffered from depression since the age of 18 and could not be helped by medication or electroconvulsive therapy. Since the procedure, the patient is free of symptoms for the first time in years.

According to studies done on depression, the habenula is hyperactive in depression and the down-regulation of this structure through deep brain stimulation could help reverse the trend and ease symptoms.

A common psychiatric illness, depression impacts one in three patients who do not respond to medication or psychotherapy. Electroconvulsive therapy, which is generally reserved for severe or treatment resistant cases, is not always effective.

In deep brain stimulation, electrodes are inserted into the brain and connected with wires under the skin to an electronic impulse generator. The electrodes emit current that continuously stimulates specific areas of the brain and is used successfully for patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease or other movement disorders.

“We decided to stimulate the habenula because it is involved is the control of three major neurotransmitter systems, which are known to be disturbed in depression,'” explained psychiatrist Dr. Alexander Sartorius from the Central Institute of Mental Health. “We aim to show that habenula stimulation has a better success rate than other target areas attempted for depression and that it is also safe to use.”

There is still hope.

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