A new look at depression

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Helen Mayberg, MD:
A new look at depression
October 16, 2008

Helen Mayberg, MD, has studied neural network models of mood regulation using neuroimaging for more than 20 years. Mayberg's research has led to the recent development of a new intervention for patients with severe depression. The intervention, known as deep brain stimulation, or DBS, is intended for those who have not had success with other treatments.

In her early studies at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center, San Antonio and the University of Toronto, Mayberg found that the subgenual cingulate region (SCG) of the brain (Cg25) plays a critical role in modulating sadness and negative mood states in both healthy and depressed people. Mayberg, now a professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Neurology at Emory, wondered if electrical stimulation of this region could improve the treatment of depression, as it does with other neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease, epilepsy and dystonia.

Data from the first pilot study in Toronto of patients with treatment-resistant depression demonstrated that the procedure was safe. These results also showed that DBS provides significant improvement in patients as early as one month after treatment. In addition, patients experienced continued and sustained improvement over time. This latest study was recently published in the journal, Biological Psychiatry.

These results are now being confirmed and extended here at Emory with collaborators Paul Holtzheimer, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry, and Robert Gross, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurosurgery. These ongoing studies are recruiting both unipolar and bipolar depressed patients. In addition to a focus on safety and efficacy, these studies are also exploring the neurobiology and mechanisms of DBS.

Dr. Mayberg is a board-certified neurologist and trained at Columbia University's Neurological Institute, with fellowship training in nuclear medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She received a BA in Psychobiology from UCLA and her medical degree from the University of Southern California.

To listen to Mayberg's own words about depression and the promise this new treatment may offer those with the severest form of this disease, use the player at the top of this page or subscribe to the podcast.