The Role of Electroconvulsive Shock Therapy

 I am a nurse at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts who is also pursueing my Bachalor Degree. I have to write a paper on ECT,and have found a great deal of info on its
history and procedure, but I have not been able to find any information on exactly why the seizure is so effective. What exactly happens neurologically,that brings about improvement in depressed or schzophrenic patients? I appriciate any information you can send me.

Thank you in advance for your time.

Marie Denise Shea (


Dear Marie Denise

0f course no one knows for sure. There are a few theories: one is that the seizures affect emotional memory (erasure of past memories). The other is that neural networks are reorganized anew and start function in new bases. Still another one is that selective neurotransmitter secretion is increased and/or decreased. Here is some bibliography on ECT you might find useful for your work, especially an issue of Ann NY Acad Sci which was dedicated to ECT in 1986. You will be able to find the papers at Harvard's med library.
Perhaps you could write a review for our Brain & Mind magazine when you finish your dissertation work!

See my article on Electroconvulsive Shock Therapy at:

Best of luck in your endeavor and thanks for the interest

Renato M.E. Sabbatini, PhD


1: Wijeratne C, Halliday GS, Lyndon RW.
The present status of electroconvulsive therapy: a systematic review.
Med J Aust. 1999 Sep 6;171(5):250-4. Review.

2: Lerer B, Karem E.
The neurobiology of ECT: the road taken.
J ECT. 1998 Sep;14(3):149-52.

3: Electroconvulsive therapy. Clinical and basic research issues.
Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1986;462:1-424.

4: Zamora EN, Kaelbling R.
Memory and electroconvulsive therapy.
Am J Psychiatry. 1965 Nov;122(5):546-54.


Prof. Renato M.E. Sabbatini
State University of Campinas



Copyright Silvia Helena Cardoso, PhD