Experimental and theoretical characterization of the voltage distribution generated by deep brain stimulation

Svjetlana Miocinovic, Scott F. Lempka, Gary S. Russo, Christopher B. Maks, Christopher R. Butson, Ken E. Sakaie, Jerrold L. Vitek, Cameron C. McIntyre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

135 Scopus citations


Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is an established therapy for the treatment of Parkinson's disease and shows great promise for numerous other disorders. While the fundamental purpose of DBS is to modulate neural activity with electric fields, little is known about the actual voltage distribution generated in the brain by DBS electrodes and as a result it is difficult to accurately predict which brain areas are directly affected by the stimulation. The goal of this study was to characterize the spatial and temporal characteristics of the voltage distribution generated by DBS electrodes. We experimentally recorded voltages around active DBS electrodes in either a saline bath or implanted in the brain of a non-human primate. Recordings were made during voltage-controlled and current-controlled stimulation. The experimental findings were compared to volume conductor electric field models of DBS parameterized to match the different experiments. Three factors directly affected the experimental and theoretical voltage measurements: 1) DBS electrode impedance, primarily dictated by a voltage drop at the electrode-electrolyte interface and the conductivity of the tissue medium, 2) capacitive modulation of the stimulus waveform, and 3) inhomogeneity and anisotropy of the tissue medium. While the voltage distribution does not directly predict the neural response to DBS, the results of this study do provide foundational building blocks for understanding the electrical parameters of DBS and characterizing its effects on the nervous system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)166-176
Number of pages11
JournalExperimental Neurology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank Weidong Xu and Jianyu Zhang for help with the experimental preparations, Jennie Minnich for assistance in animal care, and Ashutosh Chaturvedi for assistance with the model simulations. The research was financially supported by the National Institutes of Health (T32 GM-07250, R01 NS047388, and R01 NS037019).


  • Deep brain stimulation
  • Diffusion tensor
  • Electric field
  • Electrode
  • Finite element
  • Non-human primate
  • Voltage distribution
  • Volume conductor


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