Nav: Home

A sound treatment

May 20, 2020

May 20, 2020 -- When things get rough, many Americans turn to prescription pills. About one in eight over the age of 12 take antidepressants for mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, and a quarter of those have done so for 10 years or more, according to a 2017 study by the National Center for Health Statistics. And the use of antidepressants increased 65% from 1999 to 2014.

But University of Utah biomedical engineering assistant professor Jan Kubanek has discovered that treatments of brain disorders may not have to require drugs or invasive surgery at all - just sound waves.

In a new paper published Wednesday, May 20, in the journal Science Advances, Kubanek describes a procedure in which sound waves of high frequency (ultrasound) can be emitted into a patient's brain to alter his or her state. It's a non-invasive treatment that doesn't involve medications or surgery and has a unique potential to treat mental disorders including depression and anxiety and neurological disorders such as chronic pain and epilepsy. The paper can be viewed at

"Brain disorders should be treated in targeted and personalized ways instead of offering patients cocktails of drugs," says Kubanek. "But to do that, we need a tool that provides noninvasive, precise, and personalized treatments to address the source of the problem in each individual. This up until now has only been a dream."

The idea of using ultrasonic waves for such precision therapy involves pulses of sound at a high, inaudible frequency aimed into the brain using an ultrasonic transducer, similar to wands used for ultrasound scans. The sound pulses target neural circuits in the brain and cause neuronal membranes to oscillate, thus activating neurons and influencing the behavior those neurons control. There is no pain or discomfort, and there is no surgical technique involved.

"This way, you can change the activity of the neurons and also the connectivity between the stimulated neurons and their neighbors, which has the potential to return malfunctioning neural circuits back to their normal state," Kubanek says.

The team delivered ultrasonic waves into the brain of monkeys deciding whether to look left or right. With the right frequencies and targeting the right neurons, the researchers were able to control whether the subjects chose right or left. The animals did not feel the ultrasound during the procedure.

Kubanek says that this experiment provided a simple way to measure how potent the effects of ultrasound are. "The paper shows that ultrasound can produce strong effects, up to the point of influencing behavior. And changes in behavior is what we ultimately care about. For instance, we may be able to correct poor decision-making or at least reduce a person's tremor in the hand." he says.

Patients who don't respond to drugs are currently treated with other neuromodulation methods that are either invasive or lack good targeting. Kubanek said that ultrasonic waves do not have those drawbacks. A clinical team can treat a patient systematically until it identifies the target that shows the most dramatic improvement in the person's symptoms. Researchers used short stimuli -- at most 40 seconds -- but even such short stimuli can rewire the target circuits for hours. Kubanek believes longer stimuli of durations close to 40 minutes could produce results that potentially last for weeks.

Kubanek says his team has built a prototype device to perform these treatments in patients. He plans to begin first clinical trials in patients with major depression in three years.
Co-authors on the paper include Stanford University neurobiology professors William Newsome and Tirin Moore.

This news release and photos may be downloaded from

University of Utah

Related Depression Articles:

Children with social anxiety, maternal history of depression more likely to develop depression
Although researchers have known for decades that depression runs in families, new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York, suggests that children suffering from social anxiety may be at particular risk for depression in the future.
Depression and use of marijuana among US adults
This study examined the association of depression with cannabis use among US adults and the trends for this association from 2005 to 2016.
Maternal depression increases odds of depression in offspring, study shows
Depression in mothers during and after pregnancy increased the odds of depression in offspring during adolescence and adulthood by 70%.
Targeting depression: Researchers ID symptom-specific targets for treatment of depression
For the first time, physician-scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have identified two clusters of depressive symptoms that responded to two distinct neuroanatomical treatment targets in patients who underwent transcranial magnetic brain stimulation (TMS) for treatment of depression.
A biological mechanism for depression
Researchers report that in depressed individuals there are increased amounts of an unmodified structural protein, called tubulin, in lipid rafts compared with non-depressed individuals.
Depression in adults who are overweight or obese
In an analysis of primary care records of 519,513 UK adults who were overweight or obese between 2000-2016 and followed up until 2019, the incidence of new cases of depression was 92 per 10,000 people per year.
Why stress doesn't always cause depression
Rats susceptible to anhedonia, a core symptom of depression, possess more serotonin neurons after being exposed to chronic stress, but the effect can be reversed through amygdala activation, according to new research in JNeurosci.
Which comes first: Smartphone dependency or depression?
New research suggests a person's reliance on his or her smartphone predicts greater loneliness and depressive symptoms, as opposed to the other way around.
Depression breakthrough
Major depressive disorder -- referred to colloquially as the 'black dog' -- has been identified as a genetic cause for 20 distinct diseases, providing vital information to help detect and manage high rates of physical illnesses in people diagnosed with depression.
CPAP provides relief from depression
Researchers have found that continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can improve depression symptoms in patients suffering from cardiovascular diseases.
More Depression News and Depression Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Warped Reality
False information on the internet makes it harder and harder to know what's true, and the consequences have been devastating. This hour, TED speakers explore ideas around technology and deception. Guests include law professor Danielle Citron, journalist Andrew Marantz, and computer scientist Joy Buolamwini.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.