Purpose of review Brain electrical stimulation has been proposed as a strategy to improve chronically impaired cognitive function. This brief review places a small number of recent studies into a broader historical context and identifies important challenges for further development of this area of research.Recent findings Behavioral improvements following severe brain injury with central thalamic deep brain stimulation were observed in experimental studies conducted in rodents and a report on a single human. These findings suggest that this technique warrants further study as a method to modulate cognitive function in the setting of acquired brain injury. Summary This area of research offers the promise of new avenues to engage patients with nonprogressive brain injuries who, at present, have rather limited therapeutic options. These efforts, however, will require careful attention to issues of research and clinical ethics and study design.