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Two minutes of magnetic stimulation can change your brain for an hour

A couple of minutes is all it takes to 'knock out' bits of your brain for an hour, according to a new study by a University College London (UCL) team. The team have been working on ways to improve a method known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and are now using their adapted version of TMS to investigate possible treatments for stroke patients or those with Parkinson's disease.

In the latest issue of the journal Neuron, Professor John Rothwell and colleagues from UCL's Institute of Neurology discovered ways to improve TMS to produce effects on the brain that last for more than an hour after only 40 seconds of stimulation. Longer-lasting effects will enable scientists to use TMS to modify brain activity in conditions ranging from depression to brain damage.

TMS stimulates the brain via a magnetic coil held outside the skull which can be moved over different parts of the brain. The magnetic fields created by the coil induce tiny electrical currents inside the skull that alter the activity of neural pathways, stimulating or inhibiting activity in parts of the brain.

The technique has been used predominantly as a research tool to study how the healthy brain reacts to injury or damage but scientists have recently started to explore its possibilities as a treatment for depression, epilepsy, stroke and Parkinson's disease. A handful of studies have already shown potential therapeutic benefits from TMS.

The advantage of TMS is that it is non-invasive and does not require a patient to be hospitalized i.e. the treatment can be given in an out-patient clinic. However, the drawback in the past has been that TMS led to only transient neurological effects which rarely lasted longer than 30 minutes. The new method pioneered by the UCL team holds promise that much longer lasting and more powerful effects can be produced.

Professor Rothwell's team adapted the technique by testing different patterns of repetitive magnetic pulses to th
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Contact: Jenny Gimpel
j.gimpel@ucl.ac.uk
44-207-679-9739
University College London
19-Jan-2005


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