An electrical stimulator has been helping with Parkinson’s disease for fifteen years

In Parkinson’s disease, neurons that synthesize the neurotransmitter dopamine die in the brain. All neurotransmitters are needed by neurons to transmit electrochemical signals to each other, and when a neurotransmitter for some reason dries up, the neuronal circuits that use it fail. In the case of dopamine, this primarily concerns the neural circuits and centers that control movement. Therefore, with Parkinson’s disease, tremors begin, movements become slowed down, uncoordinated, it becomes difficult for a person to move – he loses control over his own muscles.

Symptoms can be alleviated by medications that replenish dopamine levels. But such drugs do not tolerate everything well, in addition, fluctuations in dopamine levels, which inevitably occur when taking dopamine drugs, are fraught with side effects – problems with movement and coordination arise from the fact that dopamine in the brain becomes either a lot or a little.

But there is another way to slow down Parkinson’s disease – is to use electrical brain stimulation. The thinnest electrodes are inserted deep into the brain, to the structures that are responsible for coordinating movements, and the battery and the control element for them are implanted under the skin on the upper part of the chest. Electrodes with a weak electric current stimulate neurons from time to time, due to which the symptoms of the disease remain the same for a long time, or intensify very slowly.

But how long is it? Electrostimulation has been known to work successfully for several years. Employees of the University of Grenoble-Alpes decided to find out more precisely how much such therapy is enough. The study involved several dozen people with Parkinson’s disease and with an electro-implant. They were diagnosed with the disease at an average age of about 40 years, the implant-stimulator was placed at the age of about 51 years, and the average duration of electrotherapy was about 17 years. At the same time, in addition to electrical stimulation, they took drugs that increase dopamine levels.

Involuntary movements, characteristic of patients with Parkinson’s disease, were in the study participants both before and after the advent of the electrostimulator. But over the 15 years that have passed since the start of electrical stimulation, such involuntary movements began to occur less often and not so long – the time they took decreased by 75%. Likewise, the periods when drugs stopped working or worked poorly were reduced by 59% – that is, electrical stimulation makes the brain more sensitive to dopamine drugs. And the use of medication itself was reduced by 51%. The results are fully described in an article in the journal Neurology.

All this does not mean that the disease itself receded – it continued to progress, and some of the symptoms continued to worsen. But for 15 years, patients, thanks to electrical stimulation, lived more normal lives than if they did not have implants. By the way, it is quite possible that electro-implants help longer, just in this case, for various reasons, the research time had to be limited to fifteen years.

In general, electrical stimulation in various versions (with and without the introduction of electrodes into the brain) can be used for a variety of purposes: for example, we wrote that electrical impulses improve mood, rejuvenate memory, and even help to cope with the consequences of a stroke.

Source: Автономная некоммерческая организация "Редакция журнала «Наука и жизнь»" by

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