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Neuropsychology news

New understanding of brain sheds light on neuro conditions

The research could yield breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s disease, PTSD, schizophrenia and depression

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A link has been established between two key parts of the brain that play significant roles in conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia and depression.

Research found that stimulating the system in the brain that deals with attention and imagery also enhances the efficiency of the default mode network, a key part of the brain’s functional organisation. The default mode network is disrupted in a host of neurological disorders.

“This research has significant implications for so many different disciplines of science,” said Kevin Clancy at Florida State University. 

“From a cognitive neuroscience perspective, the brain activity we targeted is implicated in a range of core human mental faculties, such as consciousness, self-awareness, attention and memory. 

“Our ability to directly manipulate this brain activity could afford greater insight into how these mental processes unfold. 

“From a clinical perspective, disruption of this neural activity has been implicated in the development and maintenance of various severe neuropsychiatric disorders.”

The brain’s functioning is organised by intrinsic inter-regional connectivity, which is how the different regions of the brains interact, and inter-neuronal synchrony, which is the simultaneous activation of neurons in multiple areas of the brain. 

“Our results showed that transcranial stimulation of alpha oscillations can help regulate and enhance the efficiency of the default mode network,” said associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, Wen Li. 

“The fact that this stimulation up-regulates the default mode network highlights an effective, non-invasive therapy to normalise the functioning of the network in neuropsychiatric disorders.”

This work was conducted at Florida State University‘s functional magnetic resonance imaging facility, a leading neuroimaging facility which fosters cutting-edge research and collaboration among the fields of neuroscience, psychology, medicine and engineering.

Assistant prof Li and Clancy utilised the main components of the fMRI facility, including a Siemens Prisma scanner and a high-density EEG/ERP system, which stands for electroencephalography and event-related potential. 

Providing transcranial stimulation while concurrently measuring brain activity and response to the stimulation is a delicate process, as participants must be kept comfortable in the scanner while attached to various electrodes and sensors.

“Achieving this kind of technical sophistication and rigour within simultaneous recordings is a great accomplishment. While these are effective techniques on their own, the study would lose its power if these methods were not conducted at the same time,” said assistant prof Li, who played a major role in the design and establishment of this powerful protocol at the MRI facility. 

“Kevin was ingenious in the ways he set up the electrodes for stimulation and the cap for recordings in order to keep participants comfortable.”

The technology used in this research acts directly on the brain, and this neuromodulation technique is cost-effective, ambulatory or outpatient, and does not require significant training to administer. 

Clancy hopes that this work can help establish a bridge between community-based mental health and interventional psychiatry to facilitate accessibility of high-quality, evidence-based mental health treatments.

“I’m currently writing grant applications for further research in this area; we want to apply these findings to post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain,” Assistant prof Li said. 

“Eventually, we hope to investigate this link’s effect on Alzheimer’s and additional neuropsychiatric disorders.”

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