- Scientists say they have been able to
provoke major depression by stimulating a small part of the brain.
- Experts believe the finding may mean
that in the future depression and other brain disorders could be controlled
by electrical stimulants.
- The new research is thought to differ
from the controversial electric convulsive therapy (ECT) because it does
not provoke a fit and concentrates on a precise part of the brain.
- But mental health campaigners say the
long-term effects need more investigation.
- The scientists, led by Dr Boulos-Paul
Bejjani of the Groupe Hospitalier Pitie-Salpetriere in Paris, say they
managed to stimulate depression in a 65-year-old woman suffering from Parkinson's
- They implanted electrodes in the left
side of the woman's brain, known as the substantia nigra, and ran a current
of 4.5 volts through one electrode.
- Within just five seconds, the woman began
to cry and feel profoundly sad.
- The symptoms began to fade about 90 seconds
after the current was turned off and the woman started to laugh and joke.
- Parkinson's Disease
- The scientists also put electrodes on
another part of the brain, the subthalamic nucleus, which is just a few
millimetres from the substantia nigra.
- They found that stimulating this part
relieved some of the effects of Parkinson's Disease without causing any
- The woman has suffered from Parkinson's,
a degenerative condition which affects co-ordination, for 30 years.
- The study is reported in the New England
Journal of Medicine.
- In an accompanying editorial, Dr Stuart
Yudofsky of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, USA, called the
- "The report by Bejjani raises fundamental
and far-reaching questions about depression," he said, adding that
it raised questions about how other areas of the brain affected conditions
- "Will a world that is filled with
the pain and suffering caused by severe neuropsychiatric disorders eventually
be replaced by one in which we control our feelings, perceptions and behaviour
- and those of others - with electrical devices that stimulate the cells
of our brain?" he asked.
- Medical model
- But mental health charity Mind say depression
is "very rarely" solely caused by biological factors.
- "It is often caused by a combination
of factors and can be triggered by events in a person's life," said
- She added that people needed to have
a choice of treatments for the condition.
- She said too much emphasis had been placed
on the medical model in recent years, which had provoked "an epidemic
of overprescribing of anti-depressants".
- Mind is against the forced use of ECT
and says it often has severe side effects, such as memory loss, and that
the long-term results are unclear.
- "We need to be sure that any other
form of electrical stimulation of the brain would work for everyone and
would not provoke side effects," said the spokeswoman.
- "It is very serious to intervene
directly in the workings of the brain. We would want to know, for example,
if the treatment was reversible."
- But the Parkinson's Disease Society said
it would consider with interest any development which could relieve the
symptoms of Parkinson's.