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London : While electrical stimulation has been used for years to treat patients suffering from conditions such as stroke, depression and bipolar disorder, new research suggests that the method can also be used to boost memory.
In experiments with mice, the researchers were able to boost memory and mental performance through electrical stimulation. The researchers believe that the implications of this research also have great potential to strengthen learning and memory in both healthy people and those with cognitive deficits such as Alzheimer's.
"We already have promising results in animal models of Alzheimer's disease," said lead researcher Claudio Grassi from San Raffaele Pisana Scientific Institute for Research, Hospitalisation and Health Care in Rome, Italy. The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The study involved the use of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation, or tDCS, on the mice. A non-invasive technique for brain stimulation, tDCS is applied using two small electrodes placed on the scalp, delivering short bursts of extremely low-intensity electrical currents.
After exposing the mice to single 20-minute tDCS sessions, the researchers saw signs of improved memory and brain plasticity - the ability to form new connections between neurons when learning new information -- which lasted at least a week.
This intellectual boost was demonstrated by the enhanced performance of the mice during tests requiring them to navigate a water maze and distinguish between known and unknown objects.
Using data gathered from the sessions, Grassi's team discovered increased synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus, a region of the brain critical to memory processing and storage. "In the near future, we will continue this research and extend analyses of tDCS to other brain areas and functions," Grassi noted.