Parkinson’s, depression and the switch that might turn them off
Three weeks ago, we learned that our brain is more than a bag of chemicals. This means that different chemicals affect our brain functions in different ways, depending on where in the brain they are active. The conclusion was that if we want to understand the brain, we need to look at specific regions and circuits and the way they interact rather than at the brain as a whole. More evidence for this view comes from neurosurgery.
In a TED Talk, Andres Lozano, chair of neurosurgery at the University of Toronto, explains how very specific interventions in patients’ brains can lead to astonishing effects. When introducing the topic, he explains that different parts of the brain do different things and brain functions are localised within circuits. For example, there are parts of the brain that control movement, vision, appetite, body image, happiness/sadness, love/hate, avarice/generosity/empathy, judgement and empathy, or memory and cognition. When you are healthy and things work well, all these circuits work well. But every once in a while, neurons in these circuits are misfiring or are inactive and not working as they should. The way the dysfunction manifests itself depends on where in the circuits it is located. Thus, it could for example lead to motor or cognitive impairment. In order to bring these regions of the brain back to normal functioning, Andres Lozano and his colleagues use what he calls deep brain stimulation, meaning that they place electrodes in the brain exactly in the spots where the dysfunction is located. The electrode is linked to a pacemaker that can be controlled by a remote control so that the amount of electrical stimulation can be adjusted. In his talk, he shows absolutely incredible videos of people being treated with deep brain stimulation.
His conclusion is that as we know several brain circuits and the functions they control, we can access them and modulate their activity (motor, cognitive, or mood). He thinks that the method will have a lot more indications than the ones he presented and that in the future we will (hopefully) be able to help patients with many different diseases.
What can we learn from this? To me, it was just absolutely fascinating to see the effects of the deep brain stimulation. Impossible to describe with words only. These results show that we are beginning to understand some of the mechanisms of this incredible and fascinating organ, our brain. We will keep you updated with the latest research in this field!
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