September 16, 2009

Study may lead to new neuro therapies

An Israeli study finds the simple act of closing one's eyes might lead to new neurological treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Tel Aviv University Professor Talma Hendler, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist, says it's no surprise scary music is scarier with your eyes closed. And it's that phenomenon, Hendler says, that might open the door to a new way of treating people with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases and might eventually be useful in alleviating symptoms in chronic mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia.

Hendler and colleagues discovered when one's eyes are closed, a region in the brain called the amygdala becomes active and the experience of scary music becomes more emotionally and physically intense. Hendler says the converse of the scary music effect might also be true: happy music could produce a joyous effect when our eyes are shut as well.

Music is a relatively abstract emotional carrier, Hendler said. It can easily take one's subjective personal experience and manipulate it. Our new findings, however, suggest the effect is not only subjective. Using a functional MRI, we can see that distinct changes in the brain are more pronounced when a person's eyes are not being used.

The research that included postdoctoral fellow Yulia Lerner appears in the online journal PLoS One and builds on Hendler's 2007 study that was published in the journal Cerebral Cortex.