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Neuro rehab research

Researchers advance understanding of changes caused by neurological conditions



Researchers have made advances in studying how the brain re-wires itself in neurological disease, which could yield breakthroughs in rehabilitation and therapy as a result. 

Previously, scientific knowledge has revealed that the polio virus affects the spinal cord, but not the brain. However, a team from Trinity College Dublin has now discovered previously unknown changes also occurring in the brain networks. 

The findings suggest, say the team, that brain networks engage in an abnormal but active communication with muscles in patient groups studied.

The team is building treatments for conditions including Motor Neuron Disease (MND/ALS) and Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and their new findings could impact rehabilitation for patients, the discovery of effective drugs and quantifying the potential efficacy of new therapies.

The study considerably increases understanding of how neurological and neurodegenerative diseases in parts of the nervous systems can affect brain networks, and how these networks can compensate following damage. 

This work helps to increase understanding as to how the networks that control the movement work, and how they influence and are influenced by different disease mechanisms.

Because the polio virus affects the same neurons in the spinal cord such as Motor Neuron Disease (MND/ALS) and childhood onset Spinal Muscular Atrophy, the new research has been hailed as a significant step forward in driving our global effort to find treatments for these diseases.

The team, led by Professor Orla Hardiman, Professor of Neurology at the School of Medicine, Trinity College, assessed the abnormal changes in the neural networks underlying human movements that take place due to neurological and neurodegenerative diseases. 

“Our research findings show for the first time that the brain “rewires” in those who suffered from polio in childhood,” says Professor Hardiman. 

“This has implications for our understanding of brain plasticity, and in the longer term for rehabilitation and new biomarker development.”

The assessment was made using neuro-electric measurement of the brain activity (brain waves or EEG) and the muscle activity (EMG) and some complex signal analysis.

The study – Coffey, A., et al. (2020) Altered Supraspinal Motor Networks in Survivors of Poliomyelitis: A Cortico-Muscular Coherence Study, published in Clinical Neurophysiology will be supporting the emerging approaches to diagnosis and therapy, where the patients can be diagnosed and treated, alongside rehabilitation and new drug treatments, based on how exactly their neural networks are affected, on an individual basis. 

This will be applicable both to the patient group in this study, but also, in cognate conditions such as different forms of MND/ALS.

Dr Amina Coffey, PhD researcher, Clinical Medicine, Trinity College and first author, says:

“This study shows that neurophysiological markers can pick up changes in brain connectivity patterns that have implications in our understanding of other similar neurological conditions like Spinal Muscular Atrophy.”

Dr Bahman Nasseroleslami, Assistant Professor, Clinical Medicine, Trinity College and senior author, said: “This study is especially interesting, because it shows that advanced methods in neurophysiology and neural signal analysis can help to unravel new aspects of how different diseases disrupt our movements. 

“These types of inexpensive non-invasive methods can be further developed for probing the different “neural networks” in humans that are responsible for different day-to-day movements and different diseases that affect them.”