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Making temporary changes to brain could speed up learning, study reports
Date:4/13/2011

In a breakthrough that may aid treatment of learning impairments, strokes, tinnitus and chronic pain, UT Dallas researchers have found that brain nerve stimulation accelerates learning in laboratory tests.

Another major finding of the study, published in the April 14 issue of Neuron, involves the positive changes detected after stimulation and learning were complete. Researchers monitoring brain activity in rats found that brain responses eventually returned to their pre-stimulation state, but the animals could still perform the learned task. These findings have allowed researchers to better understand how the brain learns and encodes new skills.

Previous studies showed that people and animals that practice a task experience major changes in their brains. Learning to read Braille with a single finger leads to increased brain responses to the trained digit. Learning to discriminate among a set of tones leads to increased brain responses to the trained tones.

But it was not clear whether these changes are just coincidence or whether they truly help with learning. The current research demonstrates that changes in the brain are meaningful and not merely coincidental, said Dr. Amanda Reed, who wrote the article with colleagues from The University of Texas at Dallas' School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Reed and her fellow researchers used brain stimulation to release neurotransmitters that caused the brain to increase its response to a small set of tones. The team found that this increase allowed rats to learn to perform a task using these tones more quickly than animals that had not received stimulation. This finding provides the first direct evidence that a larger brain response can aid learning.

Future treatments that enhance large changes in the brain may also assist with recovery from stroke or learning disabilities. In addition, some brain disorders such as tinnitus or chronic pain occur when large-scale
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Contact: Emily Martinez
emily.martinez@utdallas.edu
972-883-4335
University of Texas at Dallas
Source:Eurekalert

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