The brain is an electrical organ. Everything that goes on there is generated by millivolts from one neuron to another, particularly in patterns. This raises the tangible probability that if we ever decipher these patterns, we will be able to electrically regulate them to treat neurological dysfunction, from Alzheimer’s to schizophrenia, or even optimize desirable traits such as intelligence and flexibility.
Of course, the brain is so complex, so difficult to access that it is easier to imagine than to do. A pair of studies published in the journal Nature Medicine in January, however, show that electrical stimulation can, with astonishing speed and accuracy, resolve depressive urges and depressive symptoms. Mapping participants’ brain activity when they experienced certain sensations allowed researchers to individualize the stimulus և to change moods and habits much more directly than possible through therapy or medication. The results also showed the extent to which the symptoms we tend to classify as one disorder, depression, for example, may involve electrical processes that are specific to each person.
In the first study, a team at the University of California, San Francisco, surgically inserted electrodes into a woman’s brain whose severe depression proved resistant to other treatments. Over the course of 10 days, they used electrodes to transmit pulses to different areas of the brain at different frequencies, and recorded the patient’s level of depression, anxiety, and energy on an iPad. The effect of certain arteries was significant եղ elegant. “For a minute he was saying, ‘I feel like I’m reading a good book,'” says Catherine W. Scangos, psychiatrist գլխավոր lead author of the study. Another pulse was described by the patient as “less spider web”.
The researchers also recorded what kind of non-mediated brain activity coincides with periods of low mood or energy. The goal was to use those responses to guide the placement of another set of electrodes that would deliver what is known as deep brain stimulation, a technique that can restore lost function to neurons by saponifying them with a stable, high-frequency electrical pulse. To date, it has been used more frequently to treat movement disorders than Parkinson’s. It also promised depression. “But because depression is different in different people, it probably involves a lot of nerve circuits,” says Scangos. He and his colleagues wondered if a “more personalized approach” could make treatment more effective. Based on their mapping of the patient’s brain activity, they programmed the electrodes to detect his depressed state, to respond to how the cardiovascular system works on the heart. This experimental treatment will continue for a long time as the patient goes about his daily life.
Deep brain stimulation is extremely invasive for use, except in extreme cases. But in the second study, researchers used a non-invasive technique called transcranial alternating current stimulation to transmit electrical impulses through electrodes placed on participants’ scalp. The goal was to try to curb obsessive-compulsive behavior. Previous studies have suggested that orbital frontal cortex, which is part of the brain’s reward network, may play a role in reinforcing such behaviors as beneficial. The researchers then attached electrodes to 64 volunteers who “recorded the frequency with which their orbital frontal cortex fired when they won a cash prize in a game.”
It is possible that the frequency varied slightly from person to person. Using that personal frequency, the researchers stimulated the same area for each participant for 30 minutes a day for five consecutive days the next day. In doing so, they found that over the next three months, volunteers reduced their stubborn behavior by an average of about 30 percent. (None of the volunteers was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. All, however, reported varying degrees of recurrence; those with the most severe symptoms were most relieved.) Maintain an optimal rhythm, thereby improving his or her reward system coordination. with other areas.
The results reinforced the idea that personalized brain stimulation requires not only determining the right target area, but also the right rhythm at which to do so. “The neural code is a frequency,” said Robert MG, director of the Cognitive-Clinical Neurology Laboratory at Boston University. Reinhart. “The information processing channel in the brain is just like the channel you can connect to on the radio.” The study showed that such properties of coercion exist on the spectrum. Currently, a person for whom these traits are troubling but do not interfere may not seek treatment, especially if it comes with side effects, as medications do. Reinhart says that brain stimulation can one day correct all kinds of conditions that we are now inaccurately targeting. “If you want to be futuristic, you can imagine that someone is giving them something to overcome the transatlantic flight. “Why do people use coffee today?”
There will be no psychiatrists prescribing brain stimulation to the masses soon. By identifying the nerve circuits that cause specific symptoms, and showing that changes in the timing of their firing can change those symptoms, they offer new ways to think about what psychiatric disorders are. “There is still a lot of stigma attached to depression that many patients experience,” says Scangos. The subject of his study was no exception. “The fact that there was such an immediate reaction when we were promoting made him feel that this is not what I am doing wrong. It’s something in my brain that can be addressed. “
Giving a set of symptoms like a “depression” diagnostic label is helpful as it helps doctors find a more effective treatment, currently a long process of trial and error. “The multimillion-dollar question is how to best treat the patient, how to avoid treatments that will not work,” said Helen Meiberg, a neurologist and director of the Nash Family Center for Leading Chain Therapists at Aikan School. Medicine on Mount Sinai; He co-authored a commentary on both studies. As neuroscientists map the brain activity of more and more patients, they come closer and closer to the experience that Scangos says: “You have this kind of depression, you will respond best to this medicine.”
After all, if we could address those symptoms directly, we could get rid of the diagnostic categories altogether, says Alvaro Pasqual-Leone, medical director at the SeniorLife Hebrew Wolk Memory Health Center and professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. Instead of using the default label for depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder, says Pascual-Leone, doctors may ask instead: “What is the disruptive symptom of that person?” And then treat it specifically.
For now, what these studies offer everyone is further evidence that “our brains are plastic,” said Shray Gruver, a graduate student and co-author of a Boston University study. “And we can strain the brain in different ways.” These include psychotherapy և pharmacology. Our nervous activity also changes as we learn. it changes as we get older. This means that we can improve the way our mind works at any point in our lives, even without advanced technology.
But the plasticity of the brain makes it even more puzzling that certain psychological states can be so difficult to dispel. The study of personalized brain stimulation also investigates the larger question of why some people have mild or circumstantial moods or habits. It is necessary to check the tax horse, say, or to feel deep sadness over the death of a loved one – others are chronic և debilitating. “Nothing can get it right,” says Reinhart. “As if the sink water is flowing, you can clean the floor, but no one turns off the tap.”
Kim Tingley is the author of the magazine.