Subthalamic deep brain stimulation is superior to medical therapy for the motor symptoms of advanced Parkinson’s disease, and additional evidence suggests that it improves refractory symptoms of essential tremor, primary generalized dystonia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Despite this, its therapeutic mechanism is unknown. We hypothesized that subthalamic stimulation activates cerebral cortex at short latencies after stimulus onset during clinically effective stimulation for Parkinson disease.
In 5 subjects (6 hemispheres) electroencephalography measured the response of cortex to subthalamic stimulation across a range of stimulation voltages and frequencies. Novel analytical techniques reversed the anode and cathode electrode contacts and summed the resulting pair of event related potentials to suppress the stimulation artifact.
Subthalamic brain stimulation at 20 Hertz activates somatosensory cortex at discrete latencies (mean latencies 1.0 ± 0.4, 5.7 ± 1.1, and 22.2 ± 1.8 milliseconds, denoted R1, R2, and R3, respectively). The amplitude of the short latency peak (R1) during clinically effective high frequency stimulation is nonlinearly dependent on stimulation voltage (p < 0.001, repeated measures analysis of variance), and its latency is less variable than that of R3 (1.02 versus 19.46 milliseconds, p < 0.001, Levene’s test).
Clinically effective subthalamic brain stimulation in humans with Parkinson disease activates cerebral cortex at one millisecond after stimulus onset, most likely by antidromic activation. Our findings suggest that alteration of the precise timing of action potentials in cortical neurons with axonal projections to the subthalamic region is an important component of the therapeutic mechanism of subthalamic brain stimulation.