Real-Time Neurofeedback Helps Retrain The Brain

Brett Smith for – Your Universe Online

Ever wonder what your brain is thinking? Well, a new device developed by scientists from the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital at McGill University enables people to see their own brain activity in real time and control or adjust function in specific brain regions.

In their report, which was published in the journal NeuroImage, The McGill team speculated that their device could be used as a possible remedial tool to manage and train targeted brain regions.

The novel device uses magnetoencephalography (MEG), a non-invasive imaging technology that tracks magnetic fields generated by neurons in the brain. The team said the main advantage MEG has over other imaging technologies is its unmatched time resolution.

“This means you can observe your own brain activity as it happens,” said study author Sylvain Baillet, acting director at the neurological institute. “We can use MEG for neurofeedback – a process by which people can see on-going physiological information that they aren’t usually aware of, in this case, their own brain activity, and use that information to train themselves to self-regulate.”

“Our ultimate hope and aim is to enable patients to train specific regions of their own brain, in a way that relates to their particular condition,” Baillet added. “For example neurofeedback can be used by people with epilepsy so that they could train to modify brain activity in order to avoid a seizure.”

In the study, participants were asked to look at a colored disc on a display screen and use their brain activity to change the disc’s color from dark red to bright yellow white, as well as maintain that bright color for as long as possible. Study researchers tied disc color to very specific regions of the motor cortex in the participants’ brain. The disc color would change based on a predefined permutation of slow and fast brain activity within these regions. Participants had nine sessions in the MEG to reach their target.

“The remarkable thing is that with each training session, the participants were able to reach the target aim faster, even though we were raising the bar for the target objective in each session, the way you raise the bar each time in a high jump competition,” the researchers said.

“These results showed that participants were successfully using neurofeedback to alter their pattern of brain activity according to a predefined objective in specific regions of their brain’s motor cortex, without moving any body part. This demonstrates that MEG source imaging can provide brain region-specific real time neurofeedback and that longitudinal neurofeedback training is possible with this technique.”

The technology has shown promise in treating epileptic patients. The McGill team said there is great potential in using MEG to investigate other neurological syndromes and disorders.

The team is currently using the technology to work with people that have amusia, a condition that disrupts the processing musical pitch. Amusia is thought to be caused by poor communication between the auditory cortex and prefrontal regions in the brain. By measuring the intensity of connectivity between these brain regions in amusic patients, the team is trying to take advantage of the brain’s agility to strengthen the functional connectivity between the brain regions. If researchers see an improvement in pitch discrimination for participants, it will show the clinical and rehabilitative applications of this technology.