Navigation Links
Neuroscientists prove ultrasound can be tweaked to stimulate different sensations
Date:12/6/2012

A century after the world's first ultrasonic detection device invented in response to the sinking of the Titanic Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute scientists have provided the first neurophysiological evidence for something that researchers have long suspected: ultrasound applied to the periphery, such as the fingertips, can stimulate different sensory pathways leading to the brain.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. The discovery carries implications for diagnosing and treating neuropathy, which affects millions of people around the world.

"Ideally, neurologists should be able to tailor treatments to the specific sensations their patients are feeling," said William "Jamie" Tyler, an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, who led the study published this week in PLOS ONE. "Unfortunately, even with today's technologies, it's difficult to stimulate certain types of sensations without evoking others. Pulsed ultrasound allows us to selectively activate functional subsets of nerve fibers so we can study what happens when you stimulate, for example, only the peripheral fibers and central nervous system pathways that convey the sensation of fast, sharp pain or only those that convey the sensation of slow, dull, throbbing pain."

An estimated 20 million people in the United States alone suffer from neuropathy, a collection of nervous system disorders that may cause pain, numbness, and sensations of burning, itching, and tingling. One of the most common causes of neuropathy is Type 2 diabetes. Autoimmune disorders, such as lupus and Guillain-Barr syndrome; traumatic nerve injury; genetic abnormalities; movement disorders; and infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Lyme disease, and leprosy can also trigger neuropathy.

"Neuropathy involves both motor nerves that control how muscles move and sensory nerves that receive sensations such as heat, pain, and touch," Tyler said. "So clinicians may use, for example, small resonator devices to vibrate the skin or lasers to heat the surface of the skin. But we wanted to develop a method that could activate superficial and deep mechanical receptors, thermal receptors, and even combinations of both. So we used pulsed ultrasound."

In the 1970s, a group of Soviet scientists made observations that ultrasound could stimulate distinct neural pathways, but their evidence was only anecdotal, with subjects merely describing sensations of heat, pain, or vibration. In the current study, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) to provide physiological proof of those early observations.

Study participants rested their index fingers on ultrasound transducers while having their brain activity monitored with fMRI and EEG. The scientists found that they could stimulate specific somatosensory pathways just by tweaking the ultrasound waveforms.

Tyler believes the finding has important implications for pain diagnosis.

"Current methods of diagnosing and characterizing pain can sometimes seem archaic," Tyler said. "To measure pain through mechanical stimulation, for example, physicians might touch the skin with nylon monofilaments known as von Frey hairs, or they'll stroke the skin with a paintbrush. For thermal sensory testing, patients may even plunge their hands into ice water until the pain becomes too great. We're hoping to provide physicians with more precise diagnostic tools."

Better diagnostics will lead to better therapeutics, said neuroscientist Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

"By combining pulsed ultrasound with the technologies to record brain activity, Jamie Tyler and his colleagues are taking this to a whole new level of diagnostics," Friedlander said. "And the diagnostics will ultimately drive the therapeutics. This research is a great example of how new technologies can be adapted for real-world, patient-centered diagnoses and treatments."

Tyler noted the discovery could lead to other applications.

"Ultrasound transducers could be fashioned into flexible, flat insoles to provide sensory stimulation to people who have lost sensation in their feet, including the elderly, who are at such risk of falling," he said. "Surgical instruments could provide tactile feedback to surgeons in training. And I can imagine countless applications for consumer electronics. Users already rely on two-way somatosensory communication with their devices, and peripheral stimulation using ultrasound could add new dimensionalities to this communication."

Researchers will now investigage which ultrasound parameters stimulate which types of nerve fibers or receptors. Tyler also hopes to study people with Type 2 diabetes who have not yet developed neuropathy, with the ultimate goal of providing clues to treating or even preventing the pain associated with the condition.

This research may get a boost from a discovery that surprised Tyler during the PLOS ONE study.

"One thing we didn't expect is that some brain scans showed activation of pain pathways, yet the volunteers reported feeling no discomfort," Tyler said. "That's an intriguing finding. Though we don't yet know its full implications, being able to activate classic pain pathways without inducing perceptual pain can help us understand how the brain processes pain."


'/>"/>
Contact: Paula Byron
pbyron@vt.edu
540-526-2027
Virginia Tech
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. Study finds prioritizing rather than canvassing entire plant genome may lead to improved crops
2. Declining air pollution levels continue to improve life expectancy in US
3. Study suggests different organ-derived stem cell injections improve heart function
4. Combination of two pharmaceuticals proves effective in the treatment of multiple sclerosis
5. Scanning innovation can improve personalized medicine
6. Inspired: Canada funds 68 bold, inventive ways to improve health, save lives in developing countries
7. Pear genome provides new insight into breeding improvement and evolutionary trace analysis
8. Notre Dame research could improve sustainability and cost effectiveness of wastewater treatment
9. Scientists improve dating of early human settlement
10. State of Nuevo León first to benefit from improved nationwide air quality information system
11. Baiting mosquitoes with knowledge and proven insecticides
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:4/28/2016)... , April 28, 2016 Infosys ... (NYSE: INFY ), and Samsung SDS, a global ... that will provide end customers with a more secure, fast ...      (Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20130122/589162 ) , ... but it also plays a fundamental part in enabling and ...
(Date:4/26/2016)... DUBLIN , April 27, 2016 ... of the  "Global Multi-modal Biometrics Market 2016-2020"  report ... ) , The analysts forecast ... a CAGR of 15.49% during the period 2016-2020.  ... a number of sectors such as the healthcare, ...
(Date:4/15/2016)... 15, 2016 Research and ... Biometrics Market 2016-2020,"  report to their offering.  , ... , ,The global gait biometrics market is expected ... the period 2016-2020. Gait analysis generates ... be used to compute factors that are not ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/23/2016)... 2016 Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital has ... Association to serve as their official health care ... Willowbrook will provide sponsorship support, athletic training services, ... coaches, volunteers, athletes and families. "We ... Association and to bring Houston Methodist quality services ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... 23, 2016   EpiBiome , a precision microbiome ... in debt financing from Silicon Valley Bank (SVB). The ... to advance its drug development efforts, as well as ... "SVB has been an incredible strategic partner to ... traditional bank would provide," said Dr. Aeron Tynes ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... Ky. , June 23, 2016 ... two Phase 1 clinical trials of its complement ... placebo-controlled, single and multiple ascending dose studies designed ... pharmacodynamics (PD) of subcutaneous injection in healthy adult ... subcutaneously (SC) either as a single dose (ranging ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... 23, 2016 , ... ClinCapture, the only free validated electronic ... showcase its product’s latest features from June 26 to June 30, 2016 for ... Disrupting Clinical Trials in The Cloud during the conference. DIA (Drug Information ...
Breaking Biology Technology: