Thursday, September 22, 2011

 Electrical stimulation of brain boosts birth of new cells

Stimulating a specific region of the brain leads to the production of new brain cells that enhance memory, researchers at The Hospital for Sick Children have found. The findings show how deep brain stimulation (DBS) — a clinical intervention that delivers electrical pulses to targeted areas of the brain — may work to improve cognition.

“DBS has been quite effective for the treatment of movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, and has recently been explored for treatment of a range of neurologic and psychiatric conditions,” said Paul Frankland, PhD, senior author of the study. “These new findings have important clinical implications as they inform potential treatments for humans with memory disorders.”

Throughout life, new cells are born in parts of the hippocampus, the brain’s learning and memory center. In the new study, Frankland and his colleagues found that one hour of electrical stimulation to the entorhinal cortex — a region that directly communicates with the hippocampus — in adult mice led to a two-fold increase in new cells in the hippocampus. Although the burst of new cells lasted for only about one week, the cells produced during this time window developed normally and made connections with other nearby brain cells.

Six weeks later, the researchers evaluated whether the newly integrated cells produced changes in memory. The authors tested how well the animals learned to navigate onto a landing submerged in a small pool of water. Compared with mice that did not receive the therapy, DBS mice spent more time swimming near the landing, suggesting that stimulation of the entorhinal cortex improved spatial learning.

In a related preliminary study, researchers led by Andres Lozano, MD, PhD, of Toronto Western Hospital, recently published a Phase I clinical trial showing that DBS of the fornix, a brain region that also communicates directly with the hippocampus, slows cognitive decline in some people with dementia and other cognitive impairments. “The pro-cognitive effects of deep brain stimulation in human patients may result from the production of new neurons,” Frankland said.

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