06 November 2006

A Shocking Memory Boost from Germany

German scientists have discovered that certain types of electric current stimulation applied to the scalp during sleep, can improve recall in a word-learning task. The subjects were healthy medical students, but it is conceivable that similar electrical stimulation might improve the memories of persons with Alzheimer's Disease, brain trauma, and various neurodegenerative conditions.

The scientists at the University of Lubeck say that when several mild electrical stimulation at the right frequency was applied to patients brains while they were sleeping, their ability to remember words on waking improved.

The currents, applied via electrodes stuck to the scalp, apparently mimic the natural slow oscillating brain waves in the sleep cycle linked to consolidating word memory.

During slow wave sleep there are regular electrical fluctuations in the prefrontal neocortex, which is linked to conscious thought and spatial reasoning.

The experiment which was carried out on thirteen medical students who had done a word-learning task, led to improved memory retention, says lead author neuroscientist Jan Born.

The scientists suggest brain stimulation could help people with memory problems and Alzheimer's disease and offers an alternative method of intensifying or improving sleep and its memory function.

The researchers stimulated their brain while they slept and on awaking the students were asked to recall the words they had memorized.

The scientists found that if the currents were applied to the scalp during the deep sleep phase, during the first few hours of nocturnal sleep, the students recalled a greater number of words than if they had been given a sham brain stimulation.

Born says the eight percent increase overall was striking and shows that slow oscillation has the function during sleep of building and consolidating memory.

Understanding the electro-chemical language of the brain will take time, but should yield enormous benefits. Better quality sleep, better healing from brain damage, and possible reversal of neurodegenerative changes are all possible benefits of intelligent administration of electric currents of the proper frequencies and combinations. In the brain, timing is very important in coordinating learning and memory tasks.

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