How brain learns and encodes new skills

April 14th, 2011 - 2:10 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, April 14 (ANI): UT Dallas researchers have found that brain nerve stimulation accelerates learning in laboratory tests.

The breakthrough may aid treatment of learning impairments, strokes, tinnitus and chronic pain.

Another major finding of the study 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.

Amanda Reed, who wrote the article with colleagues from The University of Texas at Dallas’ School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences 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.

The finding provides the first direct evidence that a larger brain response can aid learning.

The 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, wrote Reed.

“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,” she 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,” added Reed.

The study is detailed in the issue of Neuron. (ANI)

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