Scientists develop new potential “brain training” therapy

Less than one hour of brain training with neurofeedback could strengthen neural connections and communication among brain areas, according to a new study by researchers at the D'Or Institute for Research and Education (IDOR) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The study published today in the journal Neuroimage.

Thirty-six healthy subjects participated in the study. The goal was to increase the activity of brain regions involved in hand movements. However, instead of moving their hands, participants were asked to only imagine the movement. Nineteen of them received the brain training, and the remaining seventeen were trained with placebo neurofeedback, for comparisons purposes.

Immediately before and after the brain training, which lasted around 30 minutes, their neural networks were scanned to investigate the impact of the neurofeedback, or placebo, on brain wiring and communication, also known as structural and functional connectivity, respectively.

The results show that the corpus callosum, the major cerebral bridge that connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain, exhibited increased integrity, and the neural network controlling the movements of the body became strengthened. It seems that the whole system became more robust, researchers said. Likewise, the training also had a positive impact on the default mode network, a brain network which is impaired after stroke, Parkinson's, and depression. These changes were not observed in the control group, the study abstract said.

Neurofeedback has been considered a promising way to regulate dysfunctional brain areas associated with disorders, such as chronic pain and depression. With this technique, the magnetic resonance equipment helps individuals to have access to their own brain activity in real time and quickly gain control over it. Researchers say the study may pave the way for the optimization and development of therapeutic approaches against stroke and Parkinson's.