The brain’s plasticity allows the neural tissue to adapt and modify its behavior, often repairing its own defects and allowing people to rehabilitate after strokes and other diseases. Since patients with certain neurological conditions can often speed up healing through well targeted exercises, researchers from Montreal Neurological Institute and McGill University wanted to see whether providing live imaging of the brain to the very patients being scanned could provide a new tool for neuro therapy.
The researchers used a magnetoencephalogram (MEG), a device that utilizes superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs), to detect tiny magnetic fields produced by the brain, to provide a real-time view of neurological activity to the study participants. The volunteers then had to perform a mental task (see details below) that essentially turned the scanner into a joystick controlled by the brain. After repeated practice with the task while watching how close their own brain’s state is near the goal, the participants substantially improved their performance. The research team plans to further study this technique for therapeutic purposes, with the hope that one day neuro patients will have a significantly increased role in their own rehabilitation.
More about the study from McGill’s announcement:
In this proof of concept study, participants had nine sessions in the MEG and used neurofeedback to reach a specific target. The target was to look at a coloured disc on a display screen and find their own strategy to change the disc’s colour from dark red to bright yellow white, and to maintain that bright colour for as long as possible. The disc colour was indexed on a very specific aspect of their ongoing brain activity: the researchers had set it up so that the experiment was accessing predefined regions of the motor cortex in the participants’ brain. The colour presented was changing according to a predefined combination of slow and faster brain activity within these regions. This was possible because the researchers combined MEG with MRI, which provides information on the brain’s structures, known as magnetic source imaging (MSI).
“The remarkable thing is that with each training session, the participants were able to reach the target aim faster, even though we were raising the bar for the target objective in each session, the way you raise the bar each time in a high jump competition. These results showed that participants were successfully using neurofeedback to alter their pattern of brain activity according to a predefined objective in specific regions of their brain’s motor cortex, without moving any body part. This demonstrates that MEG source imaging can provide brain region-specific real time neurofeedback and that longitudinal neurofeedback training is possible with this technique.”
These findings pave the way for MEG as an innovative therapeutic approach for treating patients. To date, work with epilepsy patients has shown the most promise but there is great potential to use MEG to investigate other neurological syndromes and neuropsychiatric disorders (e.g., stroke, dementia, movement disorders, chronic depression, etc). MEG has potential to reveal dynamics of brain activity involved in perception, cognition and behaviour: it has provided unique insight on brain functions (language, motor control, visual and auditory perception, etc.) and dysfunctions (movement disorders, tinnitus, chronic pain, dementia, etc.).
Abstract in NeuroImage: Targeted reinforcement of neural oscillatory activity with real-time neuroimaging feedback
McGill press statement: Training your brain using neurofeedback…