Since vagus nerve stimulation has an excellent safety record in human patients with epilepsy, the technique provides a new method to treat brain conditions in which the timing of brain responses is abnormal, including dyslexia and schizophrenia.
In another paper in the journal Experimental Neurology, Kilgard led a team that paired vagus nerve stimulation with audio tones of varying speeds to alter the rate of activity within the rats' brains. The team reported that this technique induced neural plasticity within the auditory cortex, which controls hearing.
"Our goal is to use the brain's natural neuromodulatory systems to enhance the effectiveness of standard therapies," Dr. Rennaker said.
The UT Dallas researchers are working with a device developed by MicroTransponder, a biotechnology firm affiliated with the University. MicroTransponder currently is testing a vagus nerve stimulation therapy on human patients in Europe in hopes of reducing or eliminating the symptoms of tinnitus, the debilitating disorder often described as "ringing in the ears."
"Understanding how brain networks self-organize themselves is vitally important to developing new ways to rehabilitate patients diagnosed with autism, dyslexia, stroke, schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease," said Kilgard, a professor of neuroscience.
Treatment of neurological disease is currently limited to pharmacological, surgical or behavioral interventions. But this recent research indicates it may be possible to effectively manipulate the plasticity of the human brain for a variety of purposes. Patients then c
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University of Texas at Dallas