Electric Pulse to the Brain May One Day be Able to Enhance Long-term Memory

Carefully targeted deep brain stimulation might one day enhance long-term memory, a small study suggests.

The experiment involved just 14 epilepsy patients, all of whom had undergone an invasive procedure to insert electrodes deep within their brains as a means of identifying the source of future seizures.

Taking advantage of the opportunity, the researchers asked the patients to participate in an additional memory study that involved presenting them with a series of 200 computerized images.

Some of the images were viewed without any additional intervention. But some were viewed in tandem with exposure to highly controlled electrical impulses directed towards a specific part of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is known to be a key center for the regulation and processing of both emotions and memory.

The result?

“We found that delivering small-amplitude brief electrical pulses at a particular frequency just after a patient viewed an image on a computer screen would significantly enhance their ability to recognize that same image the next day,” said study co-author Dr. Jon Willie.

How? Willie said deep brain stimulation appeared to spark immediate changes in brain activity. And that led his team to conclude that “this type of amygdala-mediated memory enhancement works by telling the brain to prioritize certain experiences to remember later.”

Willie is an assistant professor of neurosurgery at Emory University’s departments of neurosurgery and neurology, in Atlanta.

He noted that about 100,000 patients around the world have already used deep brain stimulation as treatment for a range of disorders, including Parkinson’s disease and depression.

But the idea that it could help tackle memory loss and dementia is new.

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SOURCE: HealthDay, Alan Mozes