Discovery may help treat memory disorders resulting from stroke, Alzheimer’s and brain injury
Stimulating a particular region in the brain via non-invasive delivery of electrical current using magnetic pulses, called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, improves memory, reports a new Northwestern Medicine® study.
The discovery opens a new field of possibilities for treating memory impairments caused by conditions such as stroke, early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, cardiac arrest and the memory problems that occur in healthy aging.
“We show for the first time that you can specifically change memory functions of the brain in adults without surgery or drugs, which have not proven effective,” said senior author Joel Voss, assistant professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “This noninvasive stimulation improves the ability to learn new things. It has tremendous potential for treating memory disorders.”
The study was published August 29 in Science.
The study also is the first to demonstrate that remembering events requires a collection of many brain regions to work in concert with a key memory structure called the hippocampus – similar to a symphony orchestra. The electrical stimulation is like giving the brain regions a more talented conductor so they play in closer synchrony.
“It’s like we replaced their normal conductor with Muti,” Voss said, referring to Riccardo Muti, the music director of the renowned Chicago Symphony Orchestra. “The brain regions played together better after the stimulation.”
The approach also has potential for treating mental disorders such as schizophrenia in which these brain regions and the hippocampus are out of sync with each other, affecting memory and cognition.