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Targeted Brain Stimulation Boosted Mice’s Motor Recovery after a Stroke

Update Date: Aug 18, 2014 03:22 PM EDT

A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain stops, which can lead to brain damage. In a new study, researchers set out to find a way to stimulate the brain after it had suffered from a stroke. The team from Stanford University School of Medicine experimented on mice models and discovered that targeted brain stimulation can improve motor recovery.

In this study, the team tested a light-driven stimulation technology known as optogenetics, which was pioneered by this study's co-author Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and of bioengineering. Optogenetics works by using light to activate a light-sensitive protein. By using the right wavelength, the light can get the protein to trigger nerve cells to fire. The team focused on a protein found in the brain's primary motor cortex, the region of the brain that is linked to motor functions.

The team used two groups of mice that suffered from a stroke. In the first group, the mice were treated with this brain stimulation technology whereas the other group of mice received a placebo. The researchers discovered that after two weeks, the treated mice performed better than the non-treated mice on a motor coordination test. The test measured how long the mice could walk on a horizontal beam before falling off. The stimulated mice also had better balance and muscular strength.

"We wanted to find out whether activating these nerve cells alone can contribute to recovery," said Gary Steinberg, the Bernard and Ronni Lacroute-William Randolph Hearst Professor in Neurosurgery and Neurosciences reported in the press release. "In this study, we found that direct stimulation of a particular set of nerve cells in the brain - nerve cells in the motor cortex - was able to substantially enhance recovery."

Steinberg added, "We're also looking to see if optogenetically stimulating other brain regions after a stroke might be equally or more effective. The goal is to identify the precise circuits that would be most amenable to interventions in the human brain, post-stroke, so that we can take this approach into clinical trials."

Even though the research is still very new, the team hopes that this form of technology can uncover new ways of treating other neurological diseases, such as Parkinson's and epilepsy.

The study was published in the journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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