Scientists have uncovered a method for improving short-term working memory, by stimulating the brain with electricity to synchronise brain waves.
Researchers at Imperial College London found that applying a low voltage current can bring different areas of the brain in sync with one another, enabling people to perform better on tasks involving working memory.
The hope is that the approach could one day be used to bypass damaged areas of the brain and relay signals in people with traumatic brain injury, stroke or epilepsy.
The brain is in a constant state of chatter, with this activity seen as brainwaves oscillating at different frequencies and different regions keeping a steady ‘beat’.
We are very excited about the potential of brain stimulation to treat patients
– Professor David Sharp
Neurologist in Imperial’s Department of Medicine
In a small study, published today in the journal eLife, the Imperial team found that applying a weak electrical current through the scalp helped to align different parts of the brain, synchronising their brain waves and enabling them to keep the same beat.
“What we observed is that people performed better when the two waves had the same rhythm and at the same time,” said Dr Ines Ribeiro Violante, a neuroscientist in the Department of Medicine at Imperial, who led the research.
In the trial, carried out in collaboration with University College London, the team used a technique called transcranial alternating current stimulation (TACS) to manipulate the brain’s regular rhythm.
They found that buzzing the brain with electricity could give a performance boost to the same memory processes used when people try to remember names at a party, telephone numbers, or even a short grocery list.
Keeping the beat
Dr Violante and team used TACS to target two brain regions – the middle frontal gyrus and the inferior parietal lobule – which are known to be involved in working memory.
Ten volunteers were asked to carry out a set of memory tasks of increasing difficulty while receiving theta frequency stimulation to the two brain regions at slightly different times (unsynchronised), at the same time (synchronous), or only a quick burst (sham) to give the impression of receiving full treatment.
In the working memory experiments, participants looked at a screen on which numbers flashed up and had to remember if a number was the same as the previous, or in the case of the harder trial, if it the current number matched that of two-numbers previous.
The hope is that it could eventually be used for these patients, or even those who have suffered a stroke or who have epilepsy.
– Ines Rebeiro Violante
Results showed that when the brain regions were stimulated in sync, reaction times on the memory tasks improved, especially on the harder of the tasks requiring volunteers to hold two strings of numbers in their minds.
“The classic behaviour is to do slower on the harder cognitive task, but people performed faster with synchronised stimulation and as fast as on the simpler task,” said Dr Violante.
Previous studies have shown that brain stimulation with electromagnetic waves or electrical current can have an effect on brain activity, the field has remained controversial due to a lack of reproducibility.
But using functional MRI to image the brain enabled the team to show changes in activity occurring during stimulation, with the electrical current potentially modulating the flow of information.
“We can use TACS to manipulate the activity of key brain networks and we can see what’s happening with fMRI,” explained Dr Violante.
“The results show that when the stimulation was in sync, there was an increase in activity in those regions involved in the task. When it was out of sync the opposite effect was seen.”
However, one of the major hurdles for making such a treatment widely available is the individual nature of people’s brains. Not only do the electrodes have to get the right frequency, but target it to the right part of the brain and get the beat in time.
Dr Violante added: “We use a very cheap technique, and that’s one of the advantages we hope it will bring if it’s translatable to the clinic.
“The next step is to see if the brain stimulation works in patients with brain injury, in combination with brain imaging, where patients have lesions which impair long range communication in their brains.
“The hope is that it could eventually be used for these patients, or even those who have suffered a stroke or who have epilepsy.”
Professor David Sharp, a neurologist in Imperial’s Department of Medicine and senior author on the paper, added: “We are very excited about the potential of brain stimulation to treat patients. I work with patients who often have major problems with working memory after their head injuries, so it would be great to have a way to enhance our current treatments, which may not always work for them.
“Our next step is to try the approach out in our patients and we will see whether combining it with cognitive training can restore lost skills.”
Receive an email update when we add a new ARTIFICIAL SYNAPSES article.
The Latest on: Brain stimulation
via Google News
The Latest on: Brain stimulation
- Long-term outcomes of deep brain stimulation in Parkinson disease on February 18, 2019 at 7:33 am
The efficacy of deep brain stimulation (DBS) for Parkinson disease (PD) is well established for up to 1 or 2 years, but long-term outcome data are still limited. In this Review, we critically discuss ... […]
- Chennai: Optimised deep brain stimulation to treat patients battling depression on February 17, 2019 at 12:13 pm
DBS can be likened to a pacemaker for the brain and is similar to DBS implants used in patients with Parkinson's disease. Chennai: Prof. Helen S Mayberg, Director-Centre for Advanced Circuit Therapeut... […]
- Efficacy of deep brain stimulation highlighted on February 17, 2019 at 11:15 am
It is hard to describe what people experience when they are depressed. They could be aware of their illness but unable to quantify it. Yet, they can describe the feeling of wellness when they surface ... […]
- Brain pathways of aversion identified on February 15, 2019 at 4:54 am
Moreover, clinical cases have been conducted with patients suffering from depression where deep brain stimulation of the habenula has been beneficial. The habenula controls both dopamine and the ... […]
- HealthLink: Deep Brain Stimulation ends Parkinson's tremor on February 14, 2019 at 5:32 pm
Parkinson's disease and other movement disorders can be debilitating to a person's life, but a specialized surgery can change everything. It's called deep brain stimulation. In tonight's HealthLink, K... […]
- Global Deep Brain Stimulation Devices Market size Analysis by top key players Medtronic, Boston Scientific, St Jude Medical, Beijing Pins, SceneRay on February 13, 2019 at 10:18 am
MarketStudyReport.com adds a new 2018-2023 Global Deep Brain Stimulation Devices Market Report focuses on the major drivers and restraints for the global key players providing analysis of the market s... […]
- Discovering a Source of Laughter in the Brain on February 12, 2019 at 6:12 am
Neuroscientists recently made some major progress on this front by pinpointing a part of the brain that, when stimulated, never fails to induce smiles and laughter. In their study conducted in three p... […]
- Brain-zapping implants that change mood and lift depression on February 11, 2019 at 9:38 am
From Science News: DARPA, a Department of Defense research agency, is funding (Massachusetts General Hospital's research on new brain stimulation methods) plus work at UCLA on targeted brain ... […]
- Global Deep Brain Stimulation Devices Market Will Reach USD 2,196 Million By 2025: Zion Market Research on February 8, 2019 at 4:42 am
New York, NY, Feb. 08, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Zion Market Research has published a new report titled “Deep Brain Stimulation Devices Market by Product (Single Channel Deep Brain Stimulator and ... […]
via Bing News