Deep Brain Stimulation for Pleasureby Sajid Surve, DO | January 8, 2009
Scientists out of Oxford University have developed a deep brain stimulation protocol for the orbitofrontal cortex of the brain, a small center behind the eyes which is believed to have a role in our perception of pleasure associated with food and sex. Dr. Tipu Aziz, a professor of neurosurgery at Oxford remarks, “A few years ago, a scientist implanted such a device into the brain of a woman with a low sex drive and turned her into a very sexually active woman. She didn’t like the sudden change, so the wiring in her head was removed.” The doctor further comments that a “sex chip” utilizing this technology could be available within 10 years.
Deep brain stimulation is an area of ongoing research whereby electrodes are surgically inserted into areas of the brain and a pacemaker is pulsed to activate that area. Promising developments have been made for conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Tourette’s Syndrome, phantom limb pain, or refractory major depression utilizing deep brain stimulation. In each of these conditions, deficiencies of a very small control region of the brain are linked to the associated symptoms, which is ideal for this type of modality. In the case of libido or pleasure, scientists have only recently begun to map out brain processes for controls. The orbitofrontal cortex in particular has come under significant scrutiny, as previously very little was known about its function. Dr. Morten Kringelbach, an Oxford psychiatrist, has a small body of research that is beginning to shed light on this area of the brain, and its links to our concepts of pleasure and reward.
With so much attention paid to male erectile dysfunction due to Viagra and its predecessors, one would think that female sexual dysfunction would also be studied aggressively. Unfortunately, research and answers have proven difficult to obtain, as sexual arousal appears to be much more multifactoral in females than males. The deep brain stimulation studies serve to offer some insight into this complicated problem, and should trigger further investigation into neural controls for sexual response. Hopefully, the research being carried out at Oxford will help to bring some novel therapies to the millions of women who struggle daily with sexual dysfunction.
Morten L. Kringelbach (2005). The human orbitofrontal cortex: linking reward to hedonic experience Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 6 (9), 691-702 DOI: 10.1038/nrn1747
Kent C. Berridge, Morten L. Kringelbach (2008). Affective neuroscience of pleasure: reward in humans and animals Psychopharmacology, 199 (3), 457-480 DOI: 10.1007/s00213-008-1099-6
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