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Curr Treat Options Neurol. 2010 Sep;12(5):443-53. doi: 10.1007/s11940-010-0087-4.

Electrical stimulation in epilepsy: vagus nerve and brain stimulation.

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Department of Neurology, Dartmouth Medical School, One Medical Center Drive, Lebanon, NH, 03756, USA,



Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) for epilepsy is a well established and effective treatment for medically intractable epilepsy. VNS is indicated if resective epilepsy surgery is unsuccessful or is not an option. About 50% of patients with VNS have a seizure reduction greater than 50%, but less than 10% become seizure-free. VNS also has an alerting effect on patients and may allow a reduction in sedating medications. The major adverse event is hoarseness, but treatment is generally well tolerated. The therapeutic effect can be delayed: patients may improve several months after VNS implantation. Direct brain stimulation (DBS) is an emerging treatment for epilepsy. Scheduled stimulation is similar to brain stimulation in Parkinson's disease. Only the anterior thalamic nucleus has been studied in a larger randomized, controlled trial, in which patients with the stimulator turned on had a significantly reduced seizure frequency. Responsive stimulation applies an electrical stimulus at the site of seizure onset to terminate the seizure if one occurs. The seizure-onset zone must be well defined before implantation. Responsive stimulation requires seizure detection and application of a stimulus online. A large pivotal trial showed a significant reduction in seizure frequency. Both DBS and responsive neurostimulation are well tolerated, but there has been some concern about depression with DBS. Infection, hemorrhage, and lead breakage are adverse events possible with any type of stimulator. None of the brain stimulation devices have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, but final approval is expected soon. These devices are indicated for patients with bilateral seizure onset or seizure onset in eloquent areas. Although the initial trials of brain stimulation do not show overwhelming improvement in seizure frequency, the technology will improve with time as we continue to learn about the use of brain stimulation for epilepsy. Optimization of VNS has been going on for 10 years, and we need to ensure that brain stimulation is similarly developed further. In addition, sophisticated devices such as responsive neurostimulators can greatly enhance our understanding of the pathophysiology of epilepsy.

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