June 3rd, 2010
05:15 PM ET

Two sites work for Parkinson's brain stimulation

By Leslie Wade
CNN Medical Producer

Surgery to thread a wire and electrode deep into the brain sounds daunting, but for patients with neurological issues such as Parkinson's disease it can provide welcomed relief. It's called deep brain stimulation  and a new study in this week's New England Journal of Medicine finds that contrary to previous DBS research, two sites in the brain instead of just one can help Parkinson's patients move better.

According to the National Institutes of Health at least 500,000 Americans have Parkinson's disease. Symptoms include hand tremors, balance issues, and problems walking. As the disease progresses, many people with Parkinson's develop mood swings and are not as mentally alert as they once were. Medications, which can provide effective relief initially, often wane over time. For some, DBS offers a good treatment option.

This DBS study is one of the largest every conducted, with 299 patients enrolled and followed for two years. Patients underwent DBS in one of two brain areas involving motor control, either the subthalamic nucleus, or the globus pallidus interna, both located deep within the skull. During surgery doctors placed an electrode in the target site which was connected to a neurostimulator implanted near the collarbone. Researchers say electric impulses sent out from the electrode disrupted or stopped bad motor signals that cause the shaking and movement problems of Parkinson's patients.

Before this study, the conventional belief was that stimulation at the subthalamic nucleus site helped patients with their movement problems but tended to aggravate the other mood and cognitive problems of the disease. This study disputes that, finding that patients who received stimulation from either site saw improvements in motor function with only slight differences in mood and cognitive decline between the two groups.

"This opens the door for clinicians to choose what is the best target for individual patients, opens the door to more choices for patients," says Dr. Michael Okun, Medical Director for the National Parkinson's Foundation.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. romney55

    what are the implications of this brain stimulation for persons suffering from Spinal Cerebellar Ataxia. I currently take medication every 6-hours along with about 5 other medications for this disease. this would be a godsend.

    June 5, 2010 at 07:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Kevin

    Thank you for sharing this promising news. Some of my clients have Parkinson's so I enjoy reading about positive research findings. DBS may be an option for those with Parkinson's that are not responding well (or have decreasing response) to medication or other treatments.


    June 6, 2010 at 15:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. www.elderoptionsoftexas.com

    Very useful information. I work with many older adults, and their loved ones, who are always looking for health resources to assist their medical needs, including Parkinson's.

    June 23, 2010 at 08:21 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.