Stimulating scalp with weak current improves dexterity

November 3rd, 2008 - 4:26 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Nov 3 (IANS) Stimulating the scalp with weak current and underlying motor regions of the brain could make you more skilled at delicate tasks. New research shows that a non-invasive brain-stimulation technique, transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), is able to improve the use of a person’s non-dominant hand.

Gottfried Schlaug and Bradley Vines from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre (BMC) and Harvard Medical School, tested the effects of using tDCS over one or both sides of the brain on 16 healthy, right-handed volunteers, as well as testing the effect of simply pretending to carry out the procedure.

“The results of our study are relevant to clinical research on motor recovery after stroke,” said Schlaug.

Volunteers were not aware of which of the three procedures they were receiving. The test involved using the fingers of the left hand to key in a series of numbers displayed on a computer screen, according to a BMC press release.

The results were striking; stimulating the brain over both the right and left motor regions (’dual hemisphere’ tDCS) resulted in a 24 percent improvement in the subjects’ scores.

This was significantly better than stimulating the brain only over one motor region or using the sham treatment (16 percent and 12 percent improvements, respectively).

tDCS involves attaching electrodes to the scalp and passing a weak direct current through the scalp and skull to alter the excitability of the underlying brain tissue.

The treatment has two principal modes depending on the direction in which the current runs between the two electrodes. Brain tissue that underlies the positive electrode (anode) becomes more excitable and the reverse is true for brain tissue that underlies the negative electrode (cathode).

No relevant negative side effects have been reported with this type of non-invasive brain stimulation. It is not to be confused with electroconvulsive therapy, which uses currents around a 1,000 times higher.

These findings are scheduled for publication in BMC Neuroscience.

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