Deep brain stimulation (DBS) has been considered for patients with intractable pain syndromes since the 1950s. Although there is substantial experience reported in the literature, the indications are contested, especially in the United States where it remains off-label. Historically, the sensory-discriminative pain pathways were targeted. More recently, modulation of the affective sphere of pain has emerged as a plausible alternative.
To systematically review the literature from studies that used contemporary DBS technology. Our aim is to summarize the current evidence of this therapy.
A systematic search was conducted in the MEDLINE, EMBASE, and Cochrane libraries through July 2017 to review all studies using the current DBS technology primarily for pain treatment. Study characteristics including patient demographics, surgical technique, outcomes, and complications were collected.
Twenty-two articles were included in this review. In total, 228 patients were implanted with a definitive DBS system for pain. The most common targets used were periaqueductal/periventricular gray matter region, ventral posterior lateral/posterior medial thalamus, or both. Poststroke pain, phantom limb pain, and brachial plexus injury were the most common specific indications for DBS. Outcomes varied between studies and across chronic pain diagnoses. Two different groups of investigators targeting the affective sphere of pain have demonstrated improvements in quality of life measures without significant reductions in pain scores.
DBS outcomes for chronic pain are heterogeneous thus far. Future studies may focus on specific pain diagnosis rather than multiple syndromes and consider randomized placebo-controlled designs. DBS targeting the affective sphere of pain seems promising and deserves further investigation 1).
Sixteen patients (13 male and 3 female patients) with neuropathic pain underwent bilateral ACC DBS. The mean age at surgery was 48.7 years (range, 33-63 years). Patient-reported outcome measures were collected before and after surgery using a Visual Analog Scale, SF-36 quality of life survey, McGill Pain Questionnaire, and EQ-5D (EQ-5D and EQ-5D Health State) questionnaires.
Fifteen patients (93.3%) transitioned from externalized to fully internalized systems. Eleven patients had data to be analyzed with a mean follow-up of 13.2 months. Post-surgery, the Visual Analog Scale score dropped below 4 for 5 of the patients, with 1 patient free of pain. Highly significant improvement on the EQ-5D was observed (mean, +20.3%; range, +0%-+83%; P = .008). Moreover, statistically significant improvements were observed for the physical functioning and bodily pain domains of the SF-36 quality-of-life survey: mean, +64.7% (range, -8.9%-+276%; P = .015) and mean +39.0% (range, -33.8%-+159%; P = .050), respectively.
Affective ACC DBS can relieve chronic neuropathic pain refractory to pharmacotherapy and restore quality of life 2).