from the no-more-monkeying-around dept.
Done in collaboration with McGill University in Montreal and Soterix Medical in New York, the study was sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA)'s Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program. Published October 12, 2017, in the journal Current Biology, tDCS in animals showed learning accelerated by about 40% when given 2 mA noninvasively to the prefrontal cortex without increased neuronal firing. This study showed it was modulated connectivity between brain areas, not neuron firing rates, that accounted for the increased learning speed.
The behavioral task in this experiment was associative learning. The macaques had to learn arbitrary associations between a visual stimulus and a location where they would get a reward—a visual foraging task. The initial foraging trials took about 15 seconds, and once the animal learned the location of the reward, it took approximately 2 seconds to recall and find the target. Subjects in the control condition required an average of 22 trials to learn to obtain the reward right way[sic]. With tDCS they required an average of 12 trials.
"In this experiment we targeted the prefrontal cortex with individualized non-invasive stimulation montages," said Dr. Praveen Pilly, HRL's principal investigator on the study. "That is the region that controls many executive functions including decision-making, cognitive control, and contextual memory retrieval. It is connected to almost all the other cortical areas of the brain, and stimulating it has widespread effects. It is also the target of choice in most published behavioral enhancement studies and case studies with transcranial stimulation. We placed the tDCS electrodes on the scalp in both our control and stimulation conditions. The behavioral effect was revealed when they learned to find the reward faster."
Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Facilitates Associative Learning and Alters Functional Connectivity in the Primate Brain (DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.09.020) (DX)
Humans in 2015 have a small arsenal of tools available to at least temporarily upgrade our brains via the increasingly popular paradigm of "cognitive enhancement."
This is a different boost than that offered by sketchy as-seen-on-NPR brain training schemes, offering literal, physiological neuro-manipulations via either chemistry or electricity. It's no secret that drugs like Adderall and Ritalin are widely sought after among healthy populations looking for an extra push, while electronic stimulant headsets are seeing a somewhat quieter or at least less fretted-about rise. Do they really work? We mostly don't know, warns cognitive neuroscientist Martha Farah in this week's issue of Science.
From the do-taze-me-bro dept.
An article over at Medical Xpress details study results published on 4 October, 2016 in Nature Scientific Reports [Full paper], from a group of neuroscientists investigating the effects of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), using MRI imaging.
From the Medical Xpress article:
Rather than taking medication, a growing number of people who suffer from chronic pain, epilepsy and drug cravings are zapping their skulls in the hopes that a weak electric current will jolt them back to health.
This brain hacking—"transcranial direct current stimulation" (tDCS)—is used to treat neurological and psychiatric symptoms. A do-it-yourself community has sprouted on Reddit, providing unconventional tips for how to use a weak electric current to treat everything from depression to schizophrenia. People are even using commercial tDCS equipment to improve their gaming ability. But tDCS is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and scientists are split on its efficacy, with some calling it quackery and bad science.
Here's the issue: Until now, scientists have been unable to look under the hood of this do-it-yourself therapeutic technique to understand what is happening. Danny JJ Wang, a professor of neurology at the USC Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute, said his team is the first to develop an MRI method whereby the magnetic fields induced by tDCS currents can be visualized in living humans. Their results were published Oct. 4 in Scientific Reports, a Nature Publishing Group journal.
"Although this therapy is taking off at the grassroots level and in academia [with an exponential increase in publications], evidence that tDCS does what is being promised is not conclusive," said Wang, the study's senior author. "Scientists don't yet understand the mechanisms at work, which prevents the FDA from regulating the therapy. Our study is the first step to experimentally map the tDCS currents in the brain and to provide solid data so researchers can develop science-based treatment."
People in antiquity used electric fish to zap away headaches, but tDCS, as it is now known, was introduced in 2000, said Mayank Jog, study lead author and a graduate student conducting research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
"Since then, this noninvasive, easy-to-use, low-cost technology has been shown to improve cognition as well as treat clinical symptoms," Jog said.
So what say you, Soylentils? Ready to cut that electrical cord, plug it into the wall and stick it in your ear? I'm sure there are quite a few who'd be willing to assist!