Brain surgery with a banjo

The BBC has film footage of the legendary Bluegrass musician Eddie Adcock playing the banjo whilst having his brain operated on.

Adcock is suffering from essential tremor, a progressive neurological condition characterised by tremors in the arms which appear during voluntary movements and which are thought to occur as a result of degeneration of cerebellar Purkinje cells.

The film shows neurosurgeons at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee treating Adcock with deep brain stimulation (DBS), in which electrodes are implanted into the thalamus. Together with the cerebellum and cerebral cortex, the thalamus forms a circuit that controls movement.

DBS is still an experimental procedure, but it has been used successfully as a treatment for essential tremor since 1997, and for Parkinson’s Disease, which has similar but far more severe symptoms, since 2002.

In this case, the surgeons used the banjo to fine tune the treatment. Because of his tremors, Adcock no longer had the dexterity required for his characteristic fast picking style. He played the instrument during his operation so that the surgeons could pinpoint exactly where the electrodes would be most effective.


  1. #1 Anibal
    October 13, 2008

    Issues aside about the peculiar scene (but necessary), this kind of neurosurgery procedures are not the evidence that run contrary to a spatial distribution processes of mental functions arguing in favor of a modular architecture of function, say, a focal region is involve in some functions and not others, and in this case, disorders related to music apraxia.

  2. #2 csrster
    October 13, 2008

    Ok, Spock, now move your left index finger …

  3. #3 Waldo
    October 13, 2008

    yes, but what songs did he play?

    Do not forsake me oh my darling?
    Bury me beneath the willow?
    Will the Circle be unbroken?

  4. #4 Waldo
    October 13, 2008

    also, he appears to be holding a open back Deering Goodtime I. A fine instrument.


  5. #5 Encefalus
    October 21, 2008

    I am a piano player. I wonder how I would perform this operation! LOL 😉

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