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Deep brain stimulation of the supero-lateral branch of the medial forebrain bundle does not lead to changes in personality in patients suffering from severe depression

  • Bettina H. Bewernick (a1) (a2) (a3), Hannah M. Kilian (a2), Klaudius Schmidt (a4), Ruth E. Reinfeldt (a3), Sarah Kayser (a5), Volker A. Coenen (a6), Sebastian Markett (a7) (a8) and Thomas E. Schlaepfer (a2) (a9)...



Reports of changes in patients’ social behavior during deep brain stimulation (DBS) raised the question whether DBS induces changes in personality. This study explored if (1) DBS is associated with changes in personality in patients suffering from treatment-resistant depression (TRD), (2) how personality dimensions and depression are associated, and (3) if TRD patients’ self-ratings of personality are valid.


TRD patients were assessed before DBS (n = 30), 6 months (t2, n = 21), 2 (t3, n = 17) and 5 years (t4, n = 11) after the initiation of DBS of the supero-lateral branch of the medial forebrain bundle (slMFB-DBS). Personality was measured with the NEO-Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI), depression severity with Hamilton (HDRS), and Montgomery–Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS).


Personality dimensions did not change with slMFB-DBS compared with baseline. Extraversion was negatively correlated with HDRS28 (r = −0.48, p < 0.05) and MADRS (r = −0.45, p < 0.05) at t2. Inter-rater reliability was high for the NEO-FFI at baseline (Cronbach's α = 0.74) and at t4 (α = 0.65). Extraversion [t(29) = −5.20; p < 0.001] and openness to experience [t(29) = −6.96; p < 0.001] differed statistically significant from the normative sample, and did not predict the antidepressant response.


slMFB-DBS was not associated with a change in personality. The severity of depression was associated with extraversion. Personality of TRD patients differed from the healthy population and did not change with response, indicating a possible scar effect. Self-ratings of personality seem valid to assess personality during TRD.


Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Thomas E. Schlaepfer, E-mail:


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