Monday, July 03, 2006

Treating injured brains with ECT?

In an earlier post tonight, I wrote about how different patterns of brain injury and incomplete repair might characterize traumatic brain injury and neurodevelopmental disorders such as "autism" and the personality disorders. I forgot in that post to note the researchers particular interest in Mr. Walter's prolonged antidepressant therapy. Researchers now think of depression as the clinical manifestation of a sort of brain injury, and recovery from depression is associated with neuronal proliferation (healing) in focal areas of the depressed person's brain. Antidepressants may somehow support or trigger that neuroproliferation.

Hmm. Injury. Healing. Antidpressants. Naturally one thinks of electronvulsive therapy, an old, mysterious, and remarkably effective treatment for severe depression. Does that also cause neuroproliferation? If so, would it have a place in treating traumatic brain injury, autism or personality disorders? (Of course the heyday of ECT, as dramatized in that infamous slander One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, it was used for just about everything.)

This would have occurred to researchers in the field many years ago, so I turned to PubMed. It turns out there's been a lot of rat brain work in the past five years. I couldn't find anything on ECT for traumatic brain injury, just old studies on whether ECT caused brain injury. I bet we'll see some animal studies on this topic within the year. As for ECT in autism -- the question has been asked. I think we'd need to have some reasonable animal models for autism before we could explore that one very much ...

Update 7/4: I was following the wrong path with ECT. This morning I remembered that Medtronic and others are using direct electrode "pacing" of brain tissue to treat Parkinson's Disease and depression. So the future is even closer than I'd guessed. We might end up using diffuse (ECT) or focal (pacing) electrostimulation to facilitate healing of a range of injured brains, including autistic brains. (This all reminds me of Accelerando ...)

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