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To better understand the spatial extent of the direct effects of deep brain stimulation (DBS) on neurons, we implemented a geometrically realistic finite element electrical model incorporating anisotropic and inhomogenous conductivities. The model included the subthalamic nucleus (STN), substantia nigra (SN), zona incerta (ZI), fields of Forel H2 (FF), internal capsule (IC) and Medtronic 3387/3389 electrode. To quantify the effects of stimulation, we extended previous studies by using multi-compartment axon models with geometry and orientation consistent with anatomical features of the brain regions of interest. Simulation of axonal firing produced a map of relative changes in axonal activation. Voltage-controlled stimulation, with clinically typical parameters at the dorso-lateral STN, caused axon activation up to 4 mm from the target. This activation occurred within the FF, IC, SN and ZI with current intensities close to the average injected during DBS (3 mA). A sensitivity analysis of model parameters (fiber size, fiber orientation, degree of inhomogeneity, degree of anisotropy, electrode configuration) revealed that the FF and IC were consistently activated. Direct activation of axons outside the STN suggests that other brain regions may be involved in the beneficial effects of DBS when treating Parkinsonian symptoms.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neural Eng

Publication Date





107 - 119


Action Potentials, Animals, Axons, Computer Simulation, Deep Brain Stimulation, Humans, Models, Neurological, Subthalamic Nucleus