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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

9/2/2014 (7 months ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Technique could lead to exciting new approaches to age-old ailments

Applying electric shocks to the brain can improve memory, researchers have found. Furthermore, researchers say the discovery could develop exciting new approaches for treating strokes, early-stage Alzheimer's and aging on the brain.

Previously, TMS has been used in a limited way to temporarily change brain function to improve performance during a test. The new study shows that TMS can be used to improve memory for events at least 24 hours after the stimulation is given.

Previously, TMS has been used in a limited way to temporarily change brain function to improve performance during a test. The new study shows that TMS can be used to improve memory for events at least 24 hours after the stimulation is given.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

9/2/2014 (7 months ago)

Published in Health

Keywords: Electroshock, hippocampus, Alzheimer's, memory loss


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, it's called a new, non-invasive technique of delivering electrical current using magnetic pulses. The study proved that Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, or TMS improves memory long after treatment.

Previously, TMS has been used in a limited way to temporarily change brain function to improve performance during a test. The new study shows that TMS can be used to improve memory for events at least 24 hours after the stimulation is given.

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The process also improved people's ability to learn new skills. "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," senior author Joel Voss of Northwestern University says.

"This noninvasive stimulation improves the ability to learn new things. It has tremendous potential for treating memory disorders." 

The study was also 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, which is similar to a conductor in a symphony orchestra. 

"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 process also has potential for treating mental disorders such as schizophrenia, where the hippocampus are out of sync with each other, affecting memory and cognition.

It isn't possible to directly stimulate the hippocampus with TMS because it's too deep in the brain for the magnetic fields to penetrate. Using an MRI scan, Voss and colleagues identified a superficial brain region a mere centimeter from the surface of the skull with high connectivity to the hippocampus.

He wanted to see if directing the stimulation to this spot would in turn stimulate the hippocampus. It did.

"I was astonished to see that it worked so specifically," Voss said.

When TMS was used to stimulate this spot, regions in the brain involved with the hippocampus became more synchronized with each other, as indicated by data taken while subjects were inside an MRI machine, which records the blood flow in the brain as an indirect measure of neuronal activity.
 
However, he cautions that years of research are needed to determine whether this approach is safe or effective for patients with Alzheimer's disease or similar disorders of memory.

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