NEURO WELLNESS SPA

COGNITIVE ENHANCEMENT USING TMS

How can TMS help with the impairment of cognitive abilities in the brain?

NEURO WELLNESS SPA

COGNITIVE ENHANCEMENT USING TMS

How can TMS help with the impairment of cognitive abilities in the brain?

THE BRAIN IS STILL A MYSTERY

“In man is a three-pound brain, which, as far as we know, is the most complex and orderly arrangement of matter in the universe.” This quote from scientist and author Isaac Asimov still rings true a century later. The brain is undoubtedly the pride and joy of the nervous system (Swenson, 2000). Science continues to explore the intricacies of thought, memory, emotion, brainwaves, neurotransmitters, etc., utilizing technology and its rapid advancements. Among those advancements is transcranial magnetic stimulation which was developed in the 1980’s and which has since become a highly favorable form of noninvasive brain stimulation. As such, it is used as a therapeutic tool for treating psychiatric disorders, improving motor function, and cognitive rehabilitation. A natural segue has led to a growing interest and body of research exploring the use of TMS to enhance cognitive abilities, specifically in healthy individuals.

THE BRAIN IS STILL A MYSTERY

“In man is a three-pound brain, which, as far as we know, is the most complex and orderly arrangement of matter in the universe.” This quote from scientist and author Isaac Asimov still rings true a century later. The brain is undoubtedly the pride and joy of the nervous system (Swenson, 2000). Science continues to explore the intricacies of thought, memory, emotion, brainwaves, neurotransmitters, etc., utilizing technology and its rapid advancements. Among those advancements is transcranial magnetic stimulation which was developed in the 1980’s and which has since become a highly favorable form of noninvasive brain stimulation. As such, it is used as a therapeutic tool for treating psychiatric disorders, improving motor function, and cognitive rehabilitation. A natural segue has led to a growing interest and body of research exploring the use of TMS to enhance cognitive abilities, specifically in healthy individuals.

COMBINING TMS WITH NEUROIMAGING

“In neuroscientific research, neuro-enhancement is seldom considered as a stand alone goal, but it is, nevertheless, a desired effect…which can provide valuable information about the underlying neural mechanisms which regulate cognitive functioning” (Palaus, 2015, p. 1). Combining TMS with the use of neuroimaging such as fMRI has allowed scientists develop a deeper understanding of cortical function, including performance enhancement as well as accelerating the learning process (Luber, 2014, p. 8-9).

COMBINING TMS WITH NEUROIMAGING

“In neuroscientific research, neuro-enhancement is seldom considered as a stand alone goal, but it is, nevertheless, a desired effect…which can provide valuable information about the underlying neural mechanisms which regulate cognitive functioning” (Palaus, 2015, p. 1). Combining TMS with the use of neuroimaging such as fMRI has allowed scientists develop a deeper understanding of cortical function, including performance enhancement as well as accelerating the learning process (Luber, 2014, p. 8-9).

TMS AND THE BRAIN

HOW THE BRAIN WORKS

The cerebral cortex is the wrinkly, outermost layer of the brain. This is where thinking takes place, as well as processing information from the five main senses. The cerebral cortex is divided into four regions: 1) parietal cortex, 2) frontal 3) temporal and 4) occipital. Cortical neurons are connected to deeper brain regions by neural pathways and are important in processing information. The frontal cortex is the cortical region significantly associated with executive functions, including working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control.

TMS RESEARCH PROTOCOLS

Research protocols utilizing high or low frequency, single pulse TMS or Theta burst TMS (TBS) either stimulate an area directly involved in the cognitive task being studied or disrupt other areas that compete for resources used by the task being studied. Results indicating improvements are lower reaction times and/or better accuracy. For example, one study (Grosbras and Paus, 2002; 2003) used a TMS pulse immediately before the onset of a stimulus, a small target light. Subjects demonstrated increased neural activity in the network determining awareness of the stimuli, resulting in subjects detecting the stimulus faster than they would have otherwise. Another study (Butefisch, 2004) found that repeatedly applying TMS and simultaneously applying a training movement of the thumb enhanced the movement execution for more than an hour. In this study the TMS was applied to the motor cortex, which demonstrates that targeting the cortical region essential to the skill (or to learning the skill) while exercising the skill simultaneously was effective. Since this study, research has demonstrated on numerous occasions that TMS can generate neruoplasticity effects lasting beyond the stimulation period, especially utilizing rTMS and TBS. In other words, the task being studied does not need to take place during TMS, but can also be done before and/or after TMS stimulation.

ADVANCES IN TMS RESEARCH

In light of these exciting discoveries made over the past few decades, when will an athlete, soldier, or surgeon be given the opportunity to hone their skills using TMS? As previously mentioned, the brain is complex. Factors such as coil orientation, direction of the magnetic current, the exact shape and duration of a TMS waveform, the optimal waveforms needed to stimulate target neurons, and understanding TMS intensity are just a few of the variables requiring more research. Another serious issue is the short duration of performance enhancement. Typically, plasticity effects have averaged a few minutes to an hour. Although, a more recent study (Galea, 2010) using TBS reported effects lasting six hours.

 

As research continues and scientists increase their knowledge of cortical function and how networks grow therein, TMS will be more efficiently targeted, and, likely, longer lasting. The potential uses for cognitive enhancements are both exciting and promising.

SOURCES

Butefisch CM, Khurana V, Kopylev L, Cohen LG. Enhancing encoding of a motor memory in the primary motor cortex by cortical stimulation. J. Neurophysiol. 2004;91:2110-2116.

Galea JM, Albert NB, Ditye T, Miall RC. Disruption of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex facilitates the consolidation of procedural skills. J. Cogn. Neurosci. 2010; 22:1158-1164.

Grosbras MH, Paus T. Transcranial magnetic stimulation of the human frontal eye field: effects on visual perception and attention. J. Gogn. Neurosci. 2002;14:1109-1120.

Grosbras MH, Paus T. Transcranial magnetic stimulation of the human frontal eye facilitates visual awareness. Eur. J. Neurosci. 2003;18:3121-3126.

Luber, B., & Lisanby, A. S. (2014, January 15). Enhancement of human cognitive performance using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Retrieved from NCBI.

Palaus, Marc & M. Marrón, Elena & Viejo-Sobera, Raquel & Redolar-Ripoll, Diego. (2015). Cognitive enhancement by means of TMS: memory and executive functions. retrieved from Research Gate.

Swenson, R. A. (2000). More than meets the eye. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
Takeuchi, H., Taki, Y., Sassa, Y., Hashizume, H., Sekiguchi, A., Fukushima, A., & Kawashima, R. (2013, July). Brain structures associated with executive functions during everyday events in a non-clinical sample. Retrieved from NCBI.

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