Deep Brain Stimulation Boosts Insulin Sensitivity

One patient with diabetes was able to reduce his medication use while receiving targeted electrical pulses.

Shawna Williams
Shawna Williams

Shawna joined The Scientist in 2017 and is now a senior editor and news director. She holds a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Colorado College and a graduate certificate and science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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May 24, 2018

X-ray showing DBS electrodes in skullWIKIMEDIA, CRAIG HACKING AND A. PROF FRANK GAILLARDElectrical stimulation of the brain’s ventral striatum increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin, apparently by boosting dopamine levels, researchers reported yesterday (May 23) in Science Translational Medicine.

As Science reports, the finding began serendipitously, when a Dutch man being treated for obsessive-compulsive disorder with deep brain stimulation (DBS) found that his diabetes symptoms also improved. A team of researchers, most of them based at the Academic Medical Center in the Netherlands, recruited him and 14 other patients already using DBS in the same brain region via surgically implanted electrodes. The investigators discovered that the participants’ insulin sensitivity was higher when their brain-zapping devices had been on for 17 hours than when they had been off for the same period of time.

See “Tuning the Brain

Previous studies had hinted that dopamine levels in the ventral striatum play a...

Nima Saeidi, who studies metabolic disorders at Harvard Medical School and was not involved in the study, tells Science that DBS may not turn out to be an effective treatment for diabetes, because the disease alters the function of cells and organs over time. “It is very possible that the results the authors described here are not translatable to diabetic patients,” he says.

See “Deep Brain Stimulation Affects the Activity of Hundreds of Genes

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