An animal study published in the September 21st (2011) edition of the Journal of Neuroscience, has some positive results that could help in understanding how the brain processes memory, and could lead to development of treatment of neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Researchers at the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) have found that stimulating a specific region of the brain leads to the production of new brain cells that can enhance memory.  The study shows that deep brain stimulation (DBS) (where a clinical intervention delivers electrical pulses to targeted areas of the brain) may work to improve memory and cognition and the results have been amazing.

“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 neurological 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.”

We constantly are producing new brain cells in the hippocampus, which is the learning and memory center of our brain. From this new study, Dr. Frankland and his colleagues have found that one hour of electrical stimulation to the entorhinal cortex (EC) led to an increase of twice the number of new cells being formed in the hippocampus. The EC is the main terminal for all the memory areas of the brain, and the bridge between them and the hippocampus. The research found that by using DBS twice the amount of new cells were formed and developed normally.

Although the cell growth only lasted a week the connections with other nearby brain cells was strong. They went back six weeks later to see if the new cells produced any memory changes. They tested how well the mice in the study learned to navigate onto a landing submerged in a small pool of water. The mice that did not receive the therapy spent more time swimming near the landing. This could indicate that stimulation of the EC improved spatial learning (ability to navigate around your surroundings).

“To date, the neurobiological basis for the clinical effect of DBS has not been well understood,” said Daniel A. Peterson, PhD, of the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, an expert on stem cells and brain repair who not affiliated with the study. “This study suggests that the stimulation of specific brain circuitry may result in the development of new functional brain cells in particular brain regions.”

In a related study, researchers led by Andres Lozano, MD, PhD, of Toronto Western Hospital, published a Phase I clinical trial showing that deep stimulation of the fornix – a brain region that also communicates directly with the hippocampus, slows down memory 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.

These studies can help with the ability to understand dementia and find ways to improve memory in patients with Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disease. This is Ron White and I look forward to reading more about their progress and passing it along.




Medical Press – Electrical stimulation of brain boosts birth of new cells, may improve memory: