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Deep brain stimulation for the treatment of drug addiction

Drug addiction represents a significant public health concern that has high rates of relapse despite optimal medical therapy and rehabilitation support. New therapies are needed, and deep brain stimulation (DBS) may be an effective treatment. The past 15 years have seen numerous animal DBS studies for addiction to various drugs of abuse, with most reporting decreases in drug-seeking behavior with stimulation. The most common target for stimulation has been the nucleus accumbens, a key structure in the mesolimbic reward pathway. In addiction, the mesolimbic reward pathway undergoes a series of neuroplastic changes. Chief among them is a relative hypofunctioning of the prefrontal cortex, which is thought to lead to the diminished impulse control that is characteristic of drug addiction. The prefrontal cortex, as well as other targets involved in drug addiction such as the lateral habenula, hypothalamus, insula, and subthalamic nucleus have also been stimulated in animals, with encouraging results. Although animal studies have largely shown promising results, current DBS studies for drug addiction primarily use stimulation during active drug use. More data are needed on the effect of DBS during withdrawal in preventing future relapse. The published human experience for DBS for drug addiction is currently limited to several promising case series or case reports that are not controlled. Further animal and human work is needed to determine what role DBS can play in the treatment of drug addiction.

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