New brain stimulation may help treat depression, PTSD

In a new study, researchers found that closed-loop brain stimulator, based on sweat response, can be developed not only for PTSD patients but also for those who suffer neuropsychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety.

The research was conducted by a team from the University of Houston.

For 8-million adults who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder in any given year, medication and cognitive therapy have been the treatment protocol.

For people with movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor, who have not responded to medication, application of high-frequency electric current to the brain, or deep brain stimulation, is regarded as most effective.

Electrodes are placed in certain areas of the brain to regulate abnormal functions and a pacemaker-like device, placed in the upper chest, controls the amount of stimulation the brain receives.

Open-loop stimulators, the most widely-used, deliver continuous stimulation until manually re-adjusted by a physician.

Closed-loop stimulators, which provide stimulation in response to biomarkers of pathologic brain activity, have been developed for movement disorders, but are yet to be explored for the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression.

In the study, the team found a closed-loop brain stimulator, based on sweat response, can be developed for PTSD and many neuropsychiatric disorders.

According to the team, sweat primarily helps maintain body temperature; however, tiny bursts of sweat are also released in response to psychologically arousing stimuli.

Tracking the associated changes in the conductivity of the skin, which can be seamlessly measured using wearables in real-world settings, thus provides a window into a person’s emotions.

Previous research has shown PTSD patients had the largest skin conductance responses when confronted with combat-related words.

In a similar study comparing Vietnam combat veterans with and without PTSD and non-combat controls, PTSD veterans had the highest baseline skin conductance levels.

The team says skin conductance additionally has the advantage of being easily measured with wearable devices that afford convenience, seamless integration into clothing and do not involve risk of surgically implanted sensors.

They hope to develop closed-loop prototypes that can eventually be used for treating patients in a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders.

One author of the study is an assistant professor of electrical engineering Rose T. Faghih.

The study is published in Frontiers in Neuroscience.

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