Home / Science / Low intensity ultrasound can change the decision-making process in the brain, according to research

Low intensity ultrasound can change the decision-making process in the brain, according to research



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Imagine working in your office while the sun shines outside. Thinking about what you might be doing instead of working is an example of "counterfactual thinking".

New research in primates has shown for the first time that counterfactual thinking is causally related to a frontal part of the brain, called the anterior cingulate cortex. And scientists have shown that the process can be changed by targeting neurons (nerve cells) in this region using low intensity ultrasound.

The study was led by Dr. Elsa Fouragnan at the University of Plymouth and published on Monday, April 15 at Nature neuroscience.

Counterfactual thinking is an important cognitive process by which humans and animals make decisions, not only in terms of what they are currently experiencing, but also in comparing their present experience with potential alternatives. Under typical circumstances, if these alternatives were available in the near future, one could change them adaptively. For example, if the sun shone while working, one would go out and enjoy the sun as soon as the work is over.

If the neurons in the anterior cingulate cortex do not function correctly, it would not be possible to switch to alternative options, even when these alternatives are the best available. Scientists believe that this is what happens in some psychiatric conditions in which people are trapped in dysfunctional habits.

The study showed for the first time how low intensity ultrasonic waves can be used non-invasively and, with millimeter precision, modulate normal brain function, which affects counterfactual thinking and the ability to switch to a better alternative.

The research, conducted in macaque monkeys, follows a previous work that highlights the safety of the non-invasive ultrasound technique and its effect on the brain.

In the study, the macaques were in charge of finding a treatment of a variety of options. They quickly learned which one was the best, but the "best" option was not always available to choose from. Therefore, they had to take it into account by the time it was available again.

After demonstrating that the cingulate cortex was related to remembering which option was the best, the researchers used low intensity ultrasound to modulate activity in this region of the brain and see its effect on behavior. When the neurons were stimulated, their counterfactual thinking was affected.

Dr. Fouragnan explained why the findings were so significant and what it could mean for future treatment: "This is a really exciting study for two main reasons: first because we discovered that the cingulate cortex is crucial to help change to better alternatives , and second because low intensity ultrasound can be used to reversibly change brain activity in a very precise part of the brain, "he said.

Ultrasound is well known as an imaging tool, in pregnancy, for example, but it can also be used as a therapeutic method, in particular to safely modulate brain activity. This is possible because mechanical vibrations caused by ultrasonic waves can cause the generation or suppression of electrical signals in the brain, which in turn can be used to restore normal brain function.

Dr. Fouragnan continued: "Neurostimulation with ultrasound is a non-invasive therapeutic technology in the early stage that has the potential to improve the lives of millions of patients with mental health conditions by stimulating brain tissues with pinpoint accuracy. neuromodulation techniques for humans, to help people with diseases such as major depression or Parkinson's disease, but there are no techniques that have this level of precision and remain non-invasive.

"They are still in their early stages and the next stage is to have more trials in humans, but the potential is very exciting."


I feel you: emotional mirror neurons found in rats.


More information:
The anterior cingulate cortex of the macaque translates the counterfactual choice value into a real behavior change, Nature neuroscience (2019). DOI: 10.1038 / s41593-019-0375-6, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41593-019-0375-6

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Research with low intensity ultrasound can change the decision-making process in the brain, according to an investigation (2019, April 15)
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