Approach for better Parkinson’s therapy with brain pacemakers

fResearchers at Mainz University Medicine have found an approach to improving the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. As the Gutenberg University reports, they have succeeded in further developing what is known as deep brain stimulation (DBS). Also known as a brain pacemaker, this treatment involves sending electrical impulses from a generator into the subthalamic nucleus. This nerve nucleus in the brainstem regulates both the speed at which movements are performed and the pace of decision-making. Slow movements are a typical Parkinson’s symptom.

For its study, which was published in the journal Nature Communications, the team led by neurologist Sergiu Groppa selected 15 Parkinson’s patients who had had a deep brain stimulator implanted to treat their movement disorders. The scientists sent short electrical impulses through it and took pictures of the subthalamic nucleus, which showed the electrical activity of this part of the brain.

This revealed a possible solution to a problem that some patients treated with DBS suffer from: the stimulation of the cranial nerve nucleus undesirably accelerates their decision-making process – they order the first dish on the menu in a hurry, for example. The Mainz researchers proved that there is no causal connection between controlling movement speed and decision-making speed: test subjects were able to carry out movements quickly without having to make decisions more quickly.

With a new form of neurostimulation, the physicians have succeeded in influencing the motor functions of the patients in a more targeted manner and independently of the decision-making process: They only administered current pulses to the test subjects via the implant at short intervals, so-called bursts. According to Groppa, the THS can be significantly improved in this way. At the Mainz University Hospital, 40 to 50 interventions are performed annually for this procedure. The pulse generator, which controls the electrodes in the brain, is implanted on the chest.

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