Train your brain, change your brain


PICTURE: Neural networks that showed increased connectivity after one hour of neurofeedback: default mode network (left), corpus callosum networks (center) and sensorimotors (right).
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Credit: Gold Institute for Research and Education (IDOR)

Less than an hour of brain training with neurofeedback strengthens neuronal connections and communication between brain areas. This is the main finding of a new study conducted at the Gold Institute for Research and Education (IDOR), published today in Neuroimage. According to the authors, the study could pave the way for the optimization and development of therapeutic approaches against stroke and Parkinson's disease, for example.

"We knew that the brain had an incredible ability to adapt, but we were not sure we could see these changes so quickly." Understanding how we can affect cabling and brain function is key to treatment of neurological disorders, "says Theo. Sailors, a biomedical scientist from IDOR and Ph.D. responsible for the study.

Neurofeedback has been considered a promising way to regulate dysfunctional brain areas associated with disorders, such as chronic pain and depression, for example. With this technique, magnetic resonance equipment helps individuals access their own brain activity in real time and take control of it quickly.

Thirty-six healthy subjects participated in the study in which the goal was to increase the activity of the brain regions involved in the hand movements. However, instead of actually moving the hand, participants were asked to imagine only the movement, in total rest. Nineteen of them received true brain training and seventeen were trained in placebo neurofeedback for comparison purposes. Immediately before and after brain training, which lasted about 30 minutes, their neural networks were scanned to investigate the impact of neurofeedback (or placebo) on brain wiring and communication, also called structural and functional connectivity, respectively.

The results show that the corpus callosum, the main cerebral bridge that connects the left and right hemispheres, has increased integrity and that the neural network controlling the body's movements is reinforced. It seems that the whole system has become more robust. Similarly, the training also had a positive impact on the default mode network, an impaired brain network after stroke, Parkinson's disease and depression, for example. These changes were not observed in the control group.

"We have shown that neurofeedback can be considered as a powerful tool to induce brain changes at a record speed, and our goal now is to develop new studies to determine if patients with neurological disorders can benefit from it as well," concludes Fernanda Tovar Moll, president of IDOR and head of the study.

The study was conducted in collaboration with the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and Augusto Motta University (Unisuam) and was part of the PhD program. thesis of Theo Marins.


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