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New Results Show that Magnetic Stimulation of Brain May Improve Working Memory and Brain Connectivity in People with MS

Summary

  • People with MS, but not healthy controls, showed improvements in working memory, brain activity, and “connectivity” (how parts of the brain interact with one another), after treatment with Repetitive Transcranial Magnet Stimulation (rTMS). This device generates electromagnet pulses that stimulate brain activity.
  • rTMS may have a future role in cognitive rehabilitation in people with MS, but further, larger studies are necessary to confirm the safety and effectiveness of this intervention and its long-term effects.
  • The team (Hanneke Hulst, MD, of VU Medical Center in Amsterdam, and others) has published results in Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry (Published Online First: 14 December 2016).

Background: Repetitive Transcranial Magnet Stimulation (rTMS) was approved by the FDA as a treatment for major depression. A device that generates electromagnet pulses is placed on the scalp with the idea of stimulating specific brain activity. Studies have shown that people with MS who received rTMS showed significant decreases in depression. This team looked at whether rTMS improved working memory (short-term memory needed for tasks such as mental arithmetic), which can be affected in people with MS.

The Study: Investigators administered rTMS – or a “sham” version of lower intensity – to an area of the brain associated with working memory in17 people with MS and 11 healthy controls. None of the participants showed signs of impaired memory at the outset of the study. A potential adverse event of rTMS is seizures, so participants were excluded if they were taking medicine that put them at risk for seizures, or had MS brain lesions in particular areas. Before and after, participants underwent imaging and extensive neuropsychological testing aimed at investigating memory. They also completed a working memory task while undergoing functional MRI, which measures brain activity during tasks.

At the beginning of the study, there were no differences in working memory between people with MS and controls. After treatment, the results suggested improvements among people with MS in working memory, brain activity, and “connectivity” (how parts of the brain interact with one another). These changes were not seen in controls.

The team (Hanneke Hulst, MD, of VU Medical Center in Amsterdam, and others) has published results in Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry

Next Steps: The authors comment that this small study implies that rTMS may play a future role in cognitive rehabilitation in people with MS. However, the study is limited by the small sample size and the fact that participants did not have obvious cognitive problems. Further studies that address these factors are necessary to confirm the safety and effectiveness of this intervention for people with MS and its long-term impact on day to day activities.

Read more about cognitive changes that affect people with MS

 

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