Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Making temporary changes to brain could speed up learning, study reports

14.04.2011
Breakthrough may aid treatment of learning impairments, strokes, tinnitus and chronic pain

In a breakthrough that may aid treatment of learning impairments, strokes, tinnitus and chronic pain, UT Dallas researchers have found that brain nerve stimulation accelerates learning in laboratory tests.

Another major finding of the study, published in the April 14 issue of Neuron, involves the positive changes detected after stimulation and learning were complete. Researchers monitoring brain activity in rats found that brain responses eventually returned to their pre-stimulation state, but the animals could still perform the learned task. These findings have allowed researchers to better understand how the brain learns and encodes new skills.

Previous studies showed that people and animals that practice a task experience major changes in their brains. Learning to read Braille with a single finger leads to increased brain responses to the trained digit. Learning to discriminate among a set of tones leads to increased brain responses to the trained tones.

But it was not clear whether these changes are just coincidence or whether they truly help with learning. The current research demonstrates that changes in the brain are meaningful and not merely coincidental, said Dr. Amanda Reed, who wrote the article with colleagues from The University of Texas at Dallas' School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Reed and her fellow researchers used brain stimulation to release neurotransmitters that caused the brain to increase its response to a small set of tones. The team found that this increase allowed rats to learn to perform a task using these tones more quickly than animals that had not received stimulation. This finding provides the first direct evidence that a larger brain response can aid learning.

Future treatments that enhance large changes in the brain may also assist with recovery from stroke or learning disabilities. In addition, some brain disorders such as tinnitus or chronic pain occur when large-scale brain changes are unable to reverse. So this new understanding of how the brain learns may lead to better treatments for these conditions.

Researchers examined the laboratory animals' brains again after the rats had practiced their learned task for a few weeks. The brains appeared to have returned to normal, even though the animals had not forgotten how to perform the task they had learned. This means that, although large changes in the brain were helpful for initial learning, those changes did not have to be permanent, Reed wrote.

"We think that this process of expanding the brain responses during learning and then contracting them back down after learning is complete may help animals and people to be able to perform many different tasks with a high level of skill," Reed said. "So for example, this may explain why people can learn a new skill like painting or playing the piano without sacrificing their ability to tie their shoes or type on a computer."

The study by Reed and colleagues supports a theory that large-scale brain changes are not directly responsible for learning, but accelerate learning by creating an expanded pool of neurons from which the brain can select the most efficient, small "network" to accomplish the new skill.

This new view of the brain can be compared to an economy or an ecosystem, rather than a computer, Reed said. Computer networks are designed by engineers and operate using a finite set of rules and solutions to solve problems. The brain, like other natural systems, works by trial and error.

The first step of learning is to create a large set of diverse neurons that are activated by doing the new skill. The second step is to identify a small subset of neurons that can accomplish the necessary computation and return the rest of the neurons to their previous state, so they can be used to learn the next new skill.

By the end of a long period of training, skilled performance is accomplished by small numbers of specialized neurons not by large-scale reorganization of the brain. This research helps explain how brains can learn new skills without interfering with earlier learning. The researchers used anesthesia when inserting electrodes into the laboratory rats' brains. The brain stimulation was painless for the rats, Reed said. Co-authors of the study were Drs. Jonathan Riley, Ryan Carraway, Andres Carrasco, Claudia Perez, Vikram Jakkamsetti and Michael Kilgard of UT Dallas.

The work was supported by the James S. McDonnell Foundation. Reed is a former McDermott Scholar at UT Dallas. After earning her bachelor's and master's degrees, she went on to also earn a PhD in neuroscience at UT Dallas.

Emily Martinez | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.utdallas.edu

Further reports about: Collaborative Learning Making brain changes chronic pain new skills

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Europe’s Demographic Future. Where the Regions Are Heading after a Decade of Crises
10.08.2017 | Berlin-Institut für Bevölkerung und Entwicklung

nachricht Scientists reveal source of human heartbeat in 3-D
07.08.2017 | University of Manchester

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A Map of the Cell’s Power Station

18.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form

18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers printed graphene-like materials with inkjet

18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>