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Scientists see brain's ability to 'rewire' itself after damage, disease
by Staff Writers
Los Angeles (UPI) May 16, 2013


Painless brain stimulation shown to improve mental math skills
Oxford, England (UPI) May 16, 2013 - Stimulation applied to a brain area known to be important for math ability has been shown to improve the ability to manipulate numbers, British researchers say.

"With just five days of cognitive training and noninvasive, painless brain stimulation, we were able to bring about long-lasting improvements in cognitive and brain functions," Roi Cohen Kadosh of the University of Oxford reported in the journal Current Biology.

While the researchers acknowledge no one knows exactly how the relatively new technique -- transcranial random noise stimulation -- works, they say the evidence suggests it allows the brain to work more efficiently by making neurons fire more synchronously.

The technique improves mental arithmetic -- the ability to add, subtract or multiply a string of numbers in one's head, for example -- not just new number learning, the researchers said.

Mental arithmetic is a more complex and challenging task, which more than 20 percent of people struggle with, they said.

The stimulation technique could be of particular help to those suffering with neurodegenerative illness, stroke or learning difficulties, Cohen Kadosh said.

"Math is a highly complex cognitive faculty that is based on a myriad of different abilities," he said. "If we can enhance mathematics, therefore, there is a good chance that we will be able to enhance simpler cognitive functions."

When the brain's primary "learning center" is damaged it can rewire itself, creating new neural circuits to compensate for lost functions, U.S. researchers say.

Scientists at UCLA, working with colleagues in Australia, say they've been able to pinpoint the regions of the brain involved in creating those alternate pathways, which are often far from the damaged site.

The finding that parts of the prefrontal cortex can take over when the hippocampus, the brain's key center of learning and memory formation, is disabled -- dubbed neural-circuit plasticity -- could potentially help scientists develop new treatments for Alzheimer's disease, stroke and other conditions involving damage to the brain, a UCLA release said Thursday.

Laboratory experiments with rats identified significant functional changes in two specific regions of the prefrontal cortex after damage to the hippocampus.

"Interestingly, previous studies had shown that these prefrontal cortex regions also light up in the brains of Alzheimer's patients, suggesting that similar compensatory circuits develop in people," neuroscience researcher Bruce Vissel of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney said.

"While it's probable that the brains of Alzheimer's sufferers are already compensating for damage, this discovery has significant potential for extending that compensation and improving the lives of many."

The hippocampus, which plays critical roles in processing, storing and recalling information, is highly susceptible to damage through stroke or lack of oxygen and is critically involved in Alzheimer's disease, UCLA's Michael Fanselow said.

"Until now, we've been trying to figure out how to stimulate repair within the hippocampus," he said. "Now we can see other structures stepping in and whole new brain circuits coming into being."

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ABOUT US
Painless brain stimulation shown to improve mental math skills
Oxford, England (UPI) May 16, 2013
Stimulation applied to a brain area known to be important for math ability has been shown to improve the ability to manipulate numbers, British researchers say. "With just five days of cognitive training and noninvasive, painless brain stimulation, we were able to bring about long-lasting improvements in cognitive and brain functions," Roi Cohen Kadosh of the University of Oxford report ... read more


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