6 Oct 2015

Novel form of brain stimulation enhances working memory

Dr Kate Hoy, lead researcher on the TBS study
MAPrc researchers have recently published a world first finding in Cerebral Cortex.

The paper, lead authored by Dr Kate Hoy, investigated the use of a novel form of brain stimulation to enhance working memory.  Impairments in cognition, such as difficulties in attention and memory, are core symptoms of a number of psychiatric and neurological conditions. These difficulties greatly affect patient’s ability to engage in day-to-day life and there are currently no effective treatments.

Brain stimulation techniques have been increasingly researched for their ability to improve cognitive functions such as working memory. However, the standard forms of brain stimulation investigated to date have had largely limited benefits with respect to the degree and duration of improvements seen.

Theta-Burst Stimulation (TBS) is a specialised form of brain stimulation that mimics the brains natural firing patterns. MAPrc researchers set out to investigate whether this form of stimulation was able to produce greater effects on working memory and whether the behavioural changes were reflected in changes in the brain’s firing patterns.

The results showed that, compared to sham stimulation, active TBS resulted in significantly improvement working memory over a period of 40 mins following 3 mins of stimulation.  The improvement in working memory performance was accompanied by increases in task-related fronto-parietal theta sychronization and parietal gamma band power.

These results have considerable implications for the role of more specialized stimulation approaches for improving cognitive functioning.  This finding will inform the development of protocols for investigation in RCTs of brain stimulation for the treatment of cognitive symptoms in illnesses such as schizophrenia, brain injury and dementia.

Reference: Hoy, K. E., Bailey, N., Michael, M., Fitzgibbon, B., Rogasch, N. C., Saeki, T., & Fitzgerald, P. B. (2015). Enhancement of working memory and task-related oscillatory activity following intermittent theta burst stimulation in healthy controls. Cerebral Cortex, bhv193.

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