Posted by: Harry | November 15, 2011

SfN 2011: Could fMRI in pigs tell us about deep brain stimulation?

People with PD suffer from a variety of movement related symptoms (among other things), and while the disorder can be controlled to a certain extent by drugs such as levodopa, it remains progressive and ultimately uncurable. Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is an interesting approach to treating Parkinson’s disease (PD). This technique is being used in humans, and it involves implanting a small electrode in one or another areas of the motor pathways that are affected by PD and its treatments. In clinical scenarios, DBS in the subthalamic nucleus is a common treatment. It seems that this treatment not only reduces the motor symptoms of the disorder itself, but also some of the side effects of the medication used to treat PD.

One of the big questions here concerns what the downstream effects of this procedure might be? In a talk I saw today, Min and company presented a new model to study this treatment. To do this, they implanted electrodes in the pig subthalamic nucleus, and scanned their brains using a specialized functional MRI machine. They found that electrical stimulation resulted in increases in activity in the motor and premotor cortical areas, as well as the basal ganglia and cerebellum. The idea here, I think, is that while this form of stimulation is of therapeutic value, how it works is somewhat mysterious. By working with this pig based model, we can hopefully determine how it works in humans.

In other SfN related news, I spent some time jumping on the various structures outside the conference centre. I think Rim posted a video on the youtube.



  1. Interesting – but why pigs?

    Let me guess…they have relatively big brains (compared to rodents) making it easier to do DBS and fMRI because there’s more room. But unlike primates you don’t need a special primate ethics approval?

  2. Does anyone have a reference?

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