Scientists Say: Deep brain stimulation

a cartoon illustration shows a brain against a blue background, with a hand holding a magnifying glass up to the brain to reveal the tiny connected neurons at work inside

Deep brain stimulation tickles specific brain cells, or neurons, with pulses of electricity. Those electrical pulses can help the neurons do their jobs properly.

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Deep brain stimulation (noun, “DEEP BRAYN Stim-yoo-LAY-shun”)

Deep brain stimulation, or DBS, is a medical treatment for various brain disorders. DBS has been used to help people with brain conditions that affect how they move. But scientists are now looking into it as a treatment for various mental health concerns.

DBS involves implanting small wires, or electrodes, into the brain. Those wires slip through small openings in the skull to touch certain parts of the brain. (Which parts of the brain depend on the condition being treated.) The electrodes deliver mild pulses of electricity to brain cells, or neurons. Those pulses tinker with the electrical messages the neurons send each other. This can help get the brain cells back on track in parts of the brain where they have not been working properly.

In the United States, DBS is approved to treat movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and dystonia. It is also approved to treat obsessive compulsive disorder. People with that condition often suffer from upsetting intrusive thoughts. DBS can also be used to treat epilepsy, a condition where people have recurring seizures. Recent research suggests that DBS may even relieve depression or other mental health issues.

In a sentence

The list of conditions that deep brain stimulation may help treat is growing.

Check out the full list of Scientists Say.

Maria Temming is the assistant editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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