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Why doesn’t deep-brain stimulation work for everyone?

Brain networks corresponding to functions such as vision (blue) and attention (green) mingle and share information in structures deep inside the brain, as seen, for example, in the bottom right corner of this color-coded composite MRI image. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have mapped nine functional networks in the deep-brain structures of 10 healthy people, an accomplishment that could lead to improvements in deep-brain stimulation therapy for severe cases of Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions. (Image: Scott Marek)
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People with severe Parkinson’s disease or other neurological conditions that cause intractable symptoms such as uncontrollable shaking, muscle spasms, seizures, obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors are sometimes treated with electric stimulators placed inside the brain. Such stimulators are designed to interrupt aberrant signaling that causes the debilitating symptoms. The therapy, deep-brain stimulation, can provide relief to some people. But in others, it can cause side effects such as memory lapses, mood changes or loss of coordination, without much improvement of symptoms.