Public Release: 

Technological advances in brain stimulation expand uses for research and treatment

Noninvasive and dynamic approaches may allow more precise control of brain activity

Society for Neuroscience

WASHINGTON, DC -- Advances in brain stimulation are transforming how neuroscientists study the brain and guiding novel approaches to the treatment of disease. New strategies revealed today offer safer, targeted means by which to study brain function, improve memory, and treat neurological and psychiatric disorders. The findings were presented at Neuroscience 2017, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world's largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.

The ability to affect brain activity helps scientists probe the function of the brain and treat dysregulation that underlies neuropsychiatric disorders such as Parkinson's disease. Deep brain stimulation uses an electrode implanted in the brain to activate specific regions, while other techniques such as transcranial magnetic stimulation and transcranial focused ultrasound deliver signals from outside the head to stimulate the brain without requiring surgery. As the technical capabilities of these approaches improve, scientists are exploring their potential to reach areas deeper in the brain, deliver customized stimulation, and study and treat diseases in new ways.

Today's new findings show that:

  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation improves how well older adults recall object locations, providing a possible path for limiting age-related memory loss (John A. Walker, abstract 168.05, see attached summary).

  • Transcranial focused ultrasound affects deep brain regions and influences primate behavior, suggesting its potential use in treating neurological disorders (Jan Kubanek, abstract 647.04, see attached summary).

  • A portable headset can target transcranial focused ultrasound to excite deep brain regions in sheep, a first step toward stimulating specific brain regions in awake, moving animals (Seung-Schik Yoo, abstract 647.06, see attached summary).

  • A brain stimulation system that simultaneously monitors and activates neurons in mice allows more targeted control of brain activity based on real-time neural changes (Noah Young, abstract 437.08, see attached summary).

  • An adaptable deep brain stimulation device can auto-adjust its level of stimulation based on the severity of involuntary movement in Parkinson's disease, allowing for better management of symptoms and side effects (Nicole C. Swann, abstract 211.21, see attached summary).

"The advances presented today help expand what's possible with brain stimulation," said press conference moderator Helen Mayberg, MD, of Emory University School of Medicine, who pioneered the use of deep brain stimulation for treatment-resistant depression. "The range of techniques and the neuroscience advances presented not only provide potential new treatment strategies for our most severe neurological and psychiatric disorders, they also open the door to new ways of viewing and probing the brain to improve our understanding of feelings, thoughts and actions."

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This research was supported by national funding agencies including the National Institutes of Health, as well as other public, private, and philanthropic organizations worldwide. Find out more about brain stimulation on BrainFacts.org.

The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) is an organization of nearly 37,000 basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and nervous system.

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