Boosting memory in healthy and neurodegenerative aging with noninvasive brain stimulation

2015  -  Evanston, IL, USA


Zainab Fatima


University of Toronto; Northwestern University

Project description

At present, the gold standard for treating neurodegenerative diseases is the combined use of cognitive behavior therapy and pharmacological therapy. Over the past few years, some researchers have started to employ noninvasive brain stimulation methods to treat other neuropsychiatric conditions such as depression and eating disorders. Recently, the Voss lab located at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University has provided the first empirical evidence for memory enhancement  in young adults that underwent targeted brain stimulation. This line of research is promising for several reasons. First, understanding the neural mechanisms that gate memory enhancement can lead to more effective rehabilitation protocols that reverse memory loss. Second, these brain stimulation technologies are not only noninvasive but they can also target specific brain sites which is currently not possible with routine therapies (cognitive behavior therapy, drugs). However, the efficacy of stimulation approaches in dealing with symptoms associated with age-related neurodegeneration is largely unknown.

The main objective of the first experiment is to improve  learning rate in healthy older adults. Initially, fast and slow learners among the older population  sample will be identified using the same neuropsychological test battery as before (Fatima et al., in review). Then, to confirm that a subset of participants  did in fact demonstrate slow task-based  learning performance, a different test of associative memory known as transitive  inference will be administered. Slow learners will undergo a daily regimen of repeated transcranial  magnetic stimulation {rTMS) in posterior sites (parietal}  that are functionally coupled  to the memory network. Pending positive results from the first experiment,  the second experiment will seek to reinstate memory function in MCI patients. A sample of 25 MCI patients displaying amnesic  tendencies will be recruited.