Therapeutic electrical stimulation of the central nervous system. - Inserm - Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale Access content directly
Journal Articles Comptes Rendus Biologies Year : 2005

Therapeutic electrical stimulation of the central nervous system.


The electrical effects on the nervous system have been known for long. The excitatory effect has been used for diagnostic purposes or even for therapeutic applications, like in pain using low-frequency stimulation of the spinal cord or of the thalamus. The discovery that High-Frequency Stimulation (HFS) mimics the effect of lesioning has opened a new field of therapeutic application of electrical stimulation in all places where lesion of neuronal structures, such as nuclei of the basal ganglia, had proven some therapeutic efficiency. This was first applied to the thalamus to mimic thalamotomy for the treatment of tremor, then to the subthalamic nucleus and the pallidum to treat some advanced forms of Parkinson's disease and control not only the tremor but also akinesia, rigidity and dyskinesias. The field of application is increasingly growing, currently encompassing dystonias, epilepsy, obsessive compulsive disease, cluster headaches, and experimental approaches are being made in the field of obesity and food intake control. Although the effects of stimulation are clear-cut and the therapeutic benefit is clearly recognized, the mechanism of action of HFS is not yet understood. The similarity between HFS and the effect of lesions in several places of the brain suggests that this might induce an inhibition-like process, which is difficult to explain with the classical concept of physiology where electrical stimulation means excitation of neural elements. The current data coming from either clinical or experimental observations are providing elements to shape a beginning of an understanding. Intra-cerebral recordings in human patients with artefact suppression tend to show the arrest of electrical firing in the recorded places. Animal experiments, either in vitro or in vivo, show complex patterns mixing inhibitory effects and frequency stimulation induced bursting activity, which would suggest that the mechanism is based upon the jamming of the neuronal message, which is by this way functionally suppressed. More recent data from in vitro biological studies show that HFS profoundly affects the cellular functioning and particularly the protein synthesis, suggesting that it could alter the synaptic transmission by reducing the production of neurotransmitters. It is now clear that this method has a larger field of application than currently known and that its therapeutical applications will benefit to several diseases of the nervous system. The understanding of the mechanism has opened a new field of research, which will call for reappraisal of the basic effects of electricity on the living tissues.

Dates and versions

inserm-00390983 , version 1 (03-06-2009)



Alim-Louis Benabid, Bradley A. Wallace, John Mitrofanis, Celine Xia, Brigitte Piallat, et al.. Therapeutic electrical stimulation of the central nervous system.. Comptes Rendus Biologies, 2005, 328 (2), pp.177-86. ⟨10.1016/j.crvi.2004.10.011⟩. ⟨inserm-00390983⟩


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