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Unilateral pallidotomy and bilateral subthalamic deep brain stimulation (STN-DBS) for Parkinson's disease (PD) have demonstrated a positive effect on motor functions. However, further studies are needed of the unintended cognitive effects accompanying these new surgical procedures. We studied the consequences of unilateral pallidotomy and STN-DBS on cognitive function in a controlled comparative design. Sixteen consecutive PD patients were assessed before and 6 months after unilateral pallidotomy (n = 8) and bilateral STN-DBS (n = 8). The same assessments were performed in a control group of eight non-operated matched PD patients recruited from surgery candidates who refused operation. The neuropsychological battery consisted of test measuring memory, attention, arithmetic, problem solving and language, as well as visuospatial, executive and premotor functions. An analysis of variance (factors time and treatment) was applied. No statistically significant differences were found in the presurgical evaluation of clinical and demographic data for the three treatment groups. The controlled comparison between presurgical and postsurgical performance revealed no significant changes in the cognitive domains tested in the pallidotomy group. The STN-DBS group showed a selective significant worsening of semantic verbal fluency (p = 0.005). This controlled comparative study suggests that neither unilateral pallidotomy nor bilateral STN-DBS have global adverse cognitive consequences, but bilateral STN-DBS may cause a selective decrease in verbal fluency.