Cognitive effects of theta frequency bilateral subthalamic nucleus stimulation in Parkinson's disease: A pilot study

Jordan Lam, Justin Lee, Marcus Williams, Melanie Cohn, Melissa Wilson, Catherine Mark, Nasrin Esnaashari, Andrew Petkus, Jennifer Hui, Danielle Feigenbaum, Mark Liker, Charles Y. Liu, Brian Lee, Darrin J. Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Background: There is significant evidence for cognitive decline following deep brain stimulation (DBS). Current stimulation paradigms utilize gamma frequency stimulation for optimal motor benefits; however, little has been done to optimize stimulation parameters for cognition. Recent evidence implicates subthalamic nucleus (STN) theta oscillations in executive function, and theta oscillations are well-known to relate to episodic memory, suggesting that theta frequency stimulation could potentially improve cognition in Parkinson's disease (PD). Objective: To evaluate the acute effects of theta frequency bilateral STN stimulation on executive function in PD versus gamma frequency and off, as well as investigate the differential effects on episodic versus nonepisodic verbal fluency. Methods: Twelve patients (all males, mean age 60.8) with bilateral STN DBS for PD underwent a double-blinded, randomized cognitive testing during stimulation at (1) 130–135 Hz (gamma), (2) 10 Hz (theta) and (3) off. Executive functions and processing speed were evaluated using verbal fluency tasks (letter, episodic category, nonepisodic category, and category switching), color-word interference task, and random number generation task. Performance at each stimulation frequency was compared within subjects. Results: Theta frequency significantly improved episodic category fluency compared to gamma, but not compared to off. There were no significant differences between stimulation frequencies in other tests. Conclusion: In this pilot trial, our results corroborate the role of theta oscillations in episodic retrieval, although it is unclear whether this reflects direct modulation of the medial temporal lobe and whether similar effects can be found with more canonical memory paradigms. Further work is necessary to corroborate our findings and investigate the possibility of interleaving theta and gamma frequency stimulation for concomitant motor and cognitive effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)230-240
Number of pages11
JournalBrain Stimulation
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021


  • Deep brain stimulation
  • Hippocampus
  • Language
  • Neuromodulation
  • Verbal fluency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biophysics
  • Clinical Neurology


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