Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is an established therapy for the treatment of a wide range of neurological disorders. Historically, DBS and other neurostimulation technologies have relied on rectangular stimulation waveforms to impose their effects on the nervous system. Recent work has suggested that non-rectangular waveforms may have advantages over the traditional rectangular pulse. Therefore, we used detailed computer models to compare a range of charge-balanced biphasic waveforms with rectangular, exponential, triangular, Gaussian and sinusoidal stimulus pulse shapes. We explored the neural activation energy of these waveforms for both intracellular and extracellular current-controlled stimulation conditions. In the context of extracellular stimulation, we compared their effects on both axonal fibers of passage and projection neurons. Finally, we evaluated the impact of delivering the waveforms through a clinical DBS electrode, as opposed to a theoretical point source. Our results suggest that DBS with a 1 ms centered-triangular pulse can decrease energy consumption by 64% when compared with the standard 100 µs rectangular pulse (energy cost of 48 and 133 nJ, respectively, to stimulate 50% of a distributed population of axons) and can decrease energy consumption by 10% when compared with the most energy efficient rectangular pulse (1.25 ms duration). In turn, there may be measureable energy savings when using appropriately designed non-rectangular pulses in clinical DBS applications, thereby warranting further experimental investigation.
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