Targeted Brain Stimulation May Repair Damaged Neural Connections Study Shows

The brain is made up of billions of cells known as neurons. These neurons, the fundamental unit of the brain’s function establish connections (or synapses) between each other which are essential in brain function. The importance of synapses in the overall function of the brain is evident in the fact that injury in these regions can result in an impairment in neural integration required for proper motor and sensory functions of the body. Over the years, several attempts to fix damaged neural connections have been made, and the product of this research is a technique known as neurostimulation. This technique which involves the passage of slight rhythms of electricity to help activate the neurons has been used in clinics as therapy for neurological conditions like Parkinson’s and depression. However, in a recent study by scientists at the University of Washington, USA, it has been shown that neurostimulation could have more clinical applications than is currently known.Brain Memory

Read Also: Brain Stimulation Shows Promise for Cannabis Use Disorder in People with Schizophrenia

Studying stimulated neural connections

To find out the factors that were most influential in neurostimulation, using a technique known as optogenetics, the researchers stimulated the motor and sensory regions of the brains of two monkeys and recorded the changes in the neural connections on stimulation. The technique used was chosen due to its effectiveness in neurostimulation while the regions stimulated reflect the most commonly affected areas in stroke cases. A large-scale neutral interface, a device placed on the surface of the brain to record underlying neural activity, was used to record the data obtained. They then carried out an analysis with an artificial intelligence AI algorithm designed to predict how already existing neural connections and different stimulation parameters could affect the brain. The parameters tested included the pauses between stimulation sessions, the distance between stimulated spots, and the region in the brain where the electrodes were placed, among others. Additionally, asides from making accurate predictions, the AI technique used by the scientists allowed them to see why and how the system arrived at its predictions, an uncommon finding in other AI techniques like deep learning.

Read Also: UC San Diego: Adult Brain Cells Revert to Younger State Following Injury, Study Shows

The overall results showed that the existing connections, and not the mechanism with which the stimulation was delivered, were the most important factor in predicting brain changes. They then theorized that the peculiarities of each individual’s brain were important to understanding its response to stimulation.

Clinical significance

This study offers an array of clinical opportunities. It offers some clarification as to why some clinical attempts to treat neurological conditions like stroke, in the past have been unsuccessful and offers insight into a new practice that when harnessed would tremendously bring a change to modern neurological practice. It could serve as an important therapy for stroke soon.

Conclusion

Since the neural connections and not how the neurons are stimulated are most essential to determine neuronal response to stimuli, it means that a technique used to treat one patient may not be applicable for another human due to the complexities and uniqueness of the human brain. Additionally, the study’s lack of clarity on the mechanism by which this phenomenon occurs leaves room for questions, especially those regarding its potency and safety. However, further research, especially those which explore brain areas beyond the two regions used, may offer more insight into this amazing discovery.

Read Also: Northwestern University Researchers Restore Mobility in Paralyzed Mice with Severe Spinal Cord Injury

References

Cortical stimulation improves skilled forelimb use following a focal ischemic infarct in the rat

Design for the Everest Randomized Trial of Cortical Stimulation and Rehabilitation for Arm Function Following Stroke

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