Impulsivity and Compulsivity After Subthalamic Deep Brain Stimulation for Parkinson’s Disease

Sara Scherrer, Andrew H. Smith, Jaimie Gowatsky, Christina A. Palmese, Joohi Jimenez-Shahed, Brian H. Kopell, Helen S. Mayberg, Martijn Figee

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Impulsivity and compulsivity are prominent non-motor problems in Parkinson’s disease (PD). Despite 20 years of research, there is still an ongoing debate as to whether subthalamic deep brain stimulation (STN DBS) for PD exacerbates or improves these symptoms. Here, we review how STN DBS affects clinical symptoms and neurocognitive aspects of impulsivity and compulsivity. When comparing patients post- to pre-surgery, in the majority of studies STN DBS for PD is associated with a decrease in clinically diagnosed impulse-control disorders and disorders of compulsivity. To avoid confounds, such as post-surgical decreases in dopaminergic medication doses, comparisons can also be made between DBS “On” versus “Off” conditions. These experimentally assayed effects of STN DBS with respect to neurocognitive aspects of impulsivity and compulsivity are more mixed. STN DBS improves behavioral flexibility without impairing negative feedback learning, delay discounting, or inhibitory control, as long as stimulation is restricted to the dorsal STN. However, STN DBS may drive impulsive actions when a subject is faced with competing choices. We discuss how motivated responses may be either enhanced or impaired by STN DBS depending on engagement of dorsal or ventral STN-mediated circuits. Future studies should combine structural and functional circuit measures with behavioral testing in PD patients on and off medication and stimulation. A more sophisticated understanding of how to modulate cortico-striatal-thalamo-cortical loops will increase the likelihood that these circuit manipulation techniques can successfully be applied to a wider range of neuropsychiatric disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Article number47
JournalFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
StatePublished - 23 Apr 2020


  • Parkinson
  • compulsivity
  • deep brain stimulation
  • impulsivity
  • subthalamic nucleus


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