70-year-old riddle of shock therapy may be solved

Shock therapy has been in use to treat chronic depression for over 70 years, but researchers had little idea how it actually works. Now, scientists say they may have solved the decades-old therapeutic riddle.

The therapy, also known as electro convulsive therapy or ECT, was first used in 1930s. It involves placing electrodes on the forehead and passing electrical currents through the brain to induce a seizure lasting from 30 to 60 seconds. India is mulling to ban the controversial procedure.

Now, a team at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland found that ECT — which provides electrical stimulation to the brain and is effective in treating chronic depression – seems to affect how brain areas communicate with each other.

It relieves “over-communication” in the brain that may make it difficult for people with depression to think and concentrate, study researcher Jennifer Perrin, a mental health researcher at the university, said.

“We believe we have solved a 70-year-old therapeutic riddle,” Ian Reid, a psychiatrist and the co-author of the study, was quoted as saying by LiveScience.

By understanding how the treatment works, researchers may one day be able to replace it with something that has a lower risk of side effects, but is just as effective, Perrin said.

In the new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team scanned the brains of nine severely depressed patients before and after receiving ECT, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Patients typically received eight treatments and the final brain scan was performed about one week after the last treatment, Perrin said. All patients had previously failed to respond to antidepressants, but were successfully treated with ECT. The researchers examined the brains so-called “functional connectivity” or internal communication pattern, Perrin said.

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