Neurosurgical treatment of mood disorders: traditional psychosurgery and the advent of deep brain stimulation

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Abstract

Purpose of review

From its peak in the 1940s and 1950s, psychosurgery (or, neurosurgery for psychiatric disorders) has had a gradual decline, with only a few centers around the world continuing with the procedure into the 1980s and 1990s. With recent developments in brain stimulation techniques, the continuing relevance of psychosurgery in the treatment of psychiatric disorders is worthy of examination.

Recent findings

A review of databases (PubMed, Medline, Current Contents and Embase) suggests that psychosurgery in the form of stereotactic focal ablation is still practiced in a few centers, although the number has decreased further from the 1990s. Procedures have not changed substantively, although modern imaging and stereotaxy have made them more precise. No good predictors of treatment response have been identified. There is a major shift in interest to deep brain stimulation (DBS) instead of ablative surgery. Studies of DBS in resistant depression and obsessive–compulsive disorder have been few and have involved small numbers, but this field is growing rapidly.

Summary

Although ablative psychosurgery using stereotactic procedures continues to be used to a small extent, psychiatrists remain ambivalent about this procedure. The baton of psychosurgery, however, appears to have been passed on to DBS, but more data are needed on technical details and outcomes before the possible therapeutic role of DBS can be established.

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