Fossil records showing trephination in the Stone Age provide evidence that humans have sought to influence the mind through physical means since before the historical record. Attempts to treat psychiatric disease via neurosurgical means in the 20th century provided some intriguing initial results. However, the indiscriminate application of these treatments, lack of rigorous evaluation of the results, and the side effects of ablative, irreversible procedures resulted in a backlash against brain surgery for psychiatric disorders that continues to this day. With the advent of psychotropic medications, interest in invasive procedures for organic brain disease waned.
Diagnosis and classification of psychiatric diseases has improved, due to a better understanding of psychiatric patho-physiology and the development of disease and treatment biomarkers. Meanwhile, a significant percentage of patients remain refractory to multiple modes of treatment, and psychiatric disease remains the number one cause of disability in the world. These data, along with the safe and efficacious application of deep brain stimulation (DBS) for movement disorders, in principle a reversible process, is rekindling interest in the surgical treatment of psychiatric disorders with stimulation of deep brain sites involved in emotional and behavioral circuitry.
This review presents a brief history of psychosurgery and summarizes the development of DBS for psychiatric disease, reviewing the available evidence for the current application of DBS for disorders of the mind.