Effectiveness of Deep Brain Stimulation for Depression Questioned

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Deep brain stimulation (DBS), which has become increasingly popular as an option for treatment-resistant depression, may be no more effective than a placebo, according to a recent study.

Darren Dougherty, MD, director of the Division of Neurotherapeutics in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and colleagues conducted the first large-scale, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of DBS for TRD. In the study, 30 participants received either DBS or a sham stimulation for 16 weeks. They were then followed for another two years.

The results of the trial, which was conducted at five U.S. medical centers, was that DBS was no more effective than the sham treatment in reducing depression symptoms, the researchers reported in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

“While initial open-label trials of DBS at the ventral capsule/ventral striatum target were promising, the results of this first controlled trial were negative,” Dougherty said in a statement.

In an accompanying commentary, Thomas Schlaepfer, MD, of University Hosspital Bonn, Germany, argued that the study doesn’t mean DBS should be avoided for TRD. “On first sight, this might be seen as a crisis for the whole field of neurostimulation therapies for depression… [but we] believe that these are examples of failed studies and not failed treatments,” he wrote.

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Deep brain stimulation may be no more effective than a placebo for treatment-resistant depression.

Those suffering from depression do not always respond to medication and/or psychotherapy. Recently, deep brain stimulation (DBS) has become an intervention option for cases of treatment-resistant depression.

New research suggests, however, that current techniques used for DBS may be no more effective than a placebo.

Because of the clinical urgency, deep brain stimulation (DBS) treatments for depression have been developed over the past 15 years. These treatments require surgery to make a small hole in the skull through which an electrode is passed into a specific brain region.

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