Training human volunteers to control their own brain activity in precise areas of the brain can enhance fundamental aspects of their visual sensitivity, according to a new study. This non-invasive 'neurofeedback' approach could one day be used to improve brain function in patients with abnormal patterns of activity, for example stroke patients.
Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL used non-invasive, real-time brain imaging that enabled participants to watch their own brain activity on a screen, a technique known as neurofeedback. During the training phase, they were asked to try and increase activity in the area of the brain that processes visual information, the visual cortex, by imagining images and observing how their brains responded.
After the training phase, the participants' visual perception was tested using a new task that required them to detect very subtle changes in the contrast of an image. When they were asked to repeat this task whilst clamping brain activity in the visual cortex at high levels, they found that those who had successfully learned to control their brain activity could improve their ability to detect even very small changes in contrast.
This improved performance was only observed when participants were exercising control of their brain activity.
Lead author Dr Frank Scharnowski, who is now based at the University of Geneva, explains: "We've shown that we can train people to manipulate their own brain activity and improve their visual sensitivity, without surgery and without drugs."
In the past, researchers have used recordings of electrical activity in the brain to train people to get better at various tasks, including decreased reaction times, altered emotional responses and even enhanced musical performance. In this study, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to provide the volunteers with real-time feedback on brain activity. The advantage of this technique is that you can see exactly where in the brain the training is having an effect, so you can target the training to particular brain areas that are responsible for specific tasks.
"The next step is to test this approach in the clinic to see whether we can offer any benefit to patients, for example to stroke patients who may have problems with perception, even though there is no damage to their vision," adds Dr Scharnowski.
The study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, Swiss National Science Foundation and the European Union, is published online today in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Wellcome Trust: http://www.wellcome.ac.uk
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Close to real-time tracking of deadly superbugs such as MRSA promises to close down outbreaks faster and save lives
Western Australia's shark cull is to be halted after the state's environmental regulator advised against it, citing "scientific uncertainty".
23andMe hired new executives experienced in health regulation to oversee FDA approval of its genetics diagnostics kit
For those who think there are not enough hours in the day, researchers may have just offered you a solution. The brain can continue tasks even while asleep, a study finds. Texting not included, alas.
It roamed land and sea and snacked on giant fish. The first few spinosaurus bones were discovered a century ago, but destroyed in WWII. A more complete, second specimen reveals a terrifying predator.
Geneticist Wendy Chung describes what it's like to chip away at the mysteries of autism, and the excitement of uncovering tiny but critical clues.
Thin area of skull allows light into brain
Scientists in Birmingham are trialling new medical tests that lead to rapid, pitchside diagnosis of concussion in sport.
A 24-year-old woman has discovered that her cerebellum is completely missing, explaining some of the unusual problems she has had with movement and speech
We need to feel a certain gravitational force to tell up from down, which has big implications for the design of objects for bases on other planets