Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Electrical stimulation generates memory brain cells

Brain cells, predominantly being neurons, are known for their limited ability to be repaired by the body. In an effort to boost the brain in generating new neurons, scientists have found that electrically stimulating a specific region of the brain generates fresh cells in the so called hippocampus; the memory center of the brain. The Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) was deployed on mice, which caused a twofold increase in new cells, lasting up to a week. The researchers made the mice perform memory tasks, showing that mice receiving the electrical stimulation have a better functioning memory. This could possible be relevant for patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease and other memory disorders.

The electrical pulses were given to the entorhinal cortex, an area of the brain close to the hippocampus. This is also the brain region that is one of the first to be affected in Alzheimer's disease, which is probably why the researchers choose to direct their treatment to this area, although they do not state this. Up until a week after stimulation, a significant increase in the production of brain cells was found. In addition, the newly created neurons connected to other cells, showing that they are functional. For effective treatment, a more prolonged effect will probably be required. It is not known how the mice react to multiple DBS treatments over time.

DBS is already used for certain brain diseases where the body fails to repair neuronal damage. It is found to be effective in patients suffering from Parkinson's disease, which is marked by a decrease in neuronal cells producing a chemical called dopamine. The brain uses dopamine as a signal transducer, a so called neurotransmitter. Lack of these chemical signals causes decreased control over motor functions, producing typical symptoms such as shaking. It is reasonable to assume that when DBS is targeted to cells controlling other brain functions, this may be equally beneficial. The results from deploying DBS for memory restoration is a promising example. When the first human trials start remains unknown, but a different study showed that electrically stimulating a brain area called the fornix resulted in slowing down cognitive diseases such as dementia. The fornix also communicates with the hippocampus, further adding prove that DBS in disease involving the hippocampus is a promising strategy to ameliorate cognitive diseases.

Who knows, in the future we might even use DBS to improve our cognitive skills, instead of just curing brain disease. That grocery list you keep forgetting would be a thing of the past, and all kids would excel at math in school.

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