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UCLA study: Brain Shock Improves Memory

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Brain stimulation enhances memory, found in small UCLA study.

Researchers from UCLA have found stimulating a key area of the brain helps improve memory. The hope is that deep brain stimulation could someday lead to new treatments for memory loss associated with early Alzheimer’s disease.

In the small study, UCLA researchers Itzhak Fried, MD, PhD, and colleagues followed 7 patients with epilepsy who had electrodes implanted into the entorhinal cortex of the brain to map their area where seizures occurred. The area of the brain is responsible for memory and spatial navigation.

According to Fried, “Every visual and sensory experience that we eventually commit to memory funnels through that doorway to the hippocampus."

The researchers used video games that featured a taxi cab, passengers and city streets. The patients were cab drives delivering passengers across town to one of six requested destinations.

“When we stimulated the nerve fibers in the patients’ entorhinal cortex during learning, they later recognized landmarks and navigated the routes more quickly,” said Fried. “They even learned to take shortcuts, reflecting improved spatial memory.”

Fried says sending small shocks to the brain during learning activities might help patients dealing with memory loss. The researchers found patients don’t need to undergo continuous deep brain stimulation to form new memories.

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Past studies have shown brain stimulation might also help patients recover from stroke.

“Our preliminary results provide evidence supporting a possible mechanism for enhancing memory, particularly as people age or suffer from early dementia. At the same time, we studied a small sample of patients, so our results should be interpreted with caution”, Fried said.

No adverse effects were associated with the electrical shocks among the seven patients included in the study. The researchers are planning on continuing studies to see if brain stimulation can improve other types of memory.

Alzheimer’s disease is the 5th leading cause of death in the United States over age 65.

The UCLA research show a small electrical shock to the brain may someday be used to help patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Deep brain stimulation was found to enhance memory in the current study, reported February 9 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

New England Journal of Medicine
Suthana N, et al "Memory enhancement and deep-brain stimulation of the entorhinal area" N Engl J Med 2012; 366: 502-510.
February 9, 2012

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