In a new Northwestern Medicine study, scientists were able to scientists were able to change the way the brain’s memory centers form a new memory, for the first time.
Using the non-invasive brain stimulation, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), in combination with MRI brain scans, the study targeted a specific area of the brain and improved the brain’s ability to make new memories. The study participants received TMS then played a memory game while their brain activity was measured with an MRI. Participants’ brain improvement lasted for at least 24 hours after receiving TMS. After several days of TMS treatment, the participants would play memory games to assess how much their associative memory improved. The significant impact of the treatment were consistent across almost all study participants.
The study brings new hope to people living with memory problems from brain damage or aging. While significantly more research is needed to evolve the basic principle discovered into an effective clinical intervention, the study has furthered our understanding of how memory works but expanding on our understanding of how memory is organized in the brain.
While Northwestern Medicine scientists have previously shown memory improvement with TMS, this study has also successfully identified that the increased excitability of the brain is how memory was improved.
"If you think about the brain's memory network as generating one unit of activity every time it tries to memorize a picture, brain stimulation made it so that now the same type of picture would generate two units of activity," said senior study author Joel Voss, associate professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "This increase in activity means that stimulation enhanced excitability, and that's important because excitability is a marker for good memory formation."
Through this study, Voss was able to expand on previous TMS application studies to improve memory by determining what the memory network does differently during the TMS application to assisted in enhancing memory. They observed that the excitability in the participant's brain network increased significantly while forming a new memory during TMS.
The study included 16 experimental subjects and 16 subjects in the control group between the ages of 18 and 35, with normal healthy memory.