Researchers showed that they could alter the speed at which the brain works in laboratory animals by pairing stimulation of the vagus nerve with fast or slow sounds.
A team led by Doctor Robert Rennaker and Doctor Michael Kilgard looked at whether repeatedly pairing vagus nerve stimulation with a specific movement would change neural activity within the laboratory rats’ primary motor cortex. To test the hypothesis, they paired the vagus nerve stimulation with movements of the forelimb in two groups of rats.
After five days of stimulation and movement pairing, the researchers examined the brain activity in response to the stimulation. The rats who received the training along with the stimulation displayed large changes in the organisation of the brain’s movement control system. The animals receiving identical motor training without stimulation pairing did not exhibit any brain changes, or plasticity.
People who suffer strokes or brain trauma often undergo rehabilitation that includes repeated movement of the affected limb in an effort to regain motor skills. It is believed that repeated use of the affected limb causes reorganisation of the brain essential to recovery. The recent study suggests that pairing vagus nerve stimulation with standard therapy may result in more rapid and extensive reorganisation of the brain, offering the potential for speeding and improving recovery following stroke, said Rennaker.
“Our goal is to use the brain’s natural neuromodulatory systems to enhance the effectiveness of standard therapies,” Rennaker said. “Our studies in sensory and motor cortex suggest that the technique has the potential to enhance treatments for neurological conditions ranging from chronic pain to motor disorders. Future studies will investigate its effectiveness in treating cognitive impairments.”
Since vagus nerve stimulation has an excellent safety record in human patients with epilepsy, the technique provides a new method to treat brain conditions in which the timing of brain responses is abnormal, including dyslexia and schizophrenia.
MEDICA.de; Source: University of Texas at Dallas