The beneficial effects of subthalamic nucleus deep brain stimulation (STN-DBS) on motor symptoms and quality of life in Parkinson's disease (PD) are well known, but little is known of the effects on autonomic function. Diffusion of current during stimulation of the STN may simultaneously involve the motor and nonmotor, limbic and associative areas of the STN. The aims of this study were to examine whether STN stimulation affects functions of the autonomic nervous system and, if so, to correlate the effects with the active contacts of electrodes in the STN. Eight PD patients with good motor control and quality of sleep after STN-DBS surgery were recruited. All patients had two days of recordings with portable polysomnography (PSG) (first night with stimulation "on" and second night "off"). From the PSG data, the first sleep cycle of each recording night was defined. Heart rate variability (HRV) was analyzed between the same uninterrupted periods of the two sleep nights. In addition, the optimal electrode positions were defined from postoperative MRI studies, and the coordinates of active contacts were confirmed. HRV spectral analysis showed that only low-frequency (LF)/high-frequency (HF) power was significantly activated in the stimulation "on" groups (P = 0.011). There was a significant negative correlation between power change of LF/HF and electrode position lateral to the midcommissural point (ρ = 0.857, P = 0.007) These results demonstrate that STN-DBS can enhance sympathetic regulation; the autonomic response may be due to electrical signals being distributed to limbic components of the STN or descending sympathetic pathways in the zona incerta.
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