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Developmental Biology - Brain Health

Rehabilitating Injured Brains?

Newfound ability to change baby brain activity could lead to rehabilitation for all injured brains...

For the first time, researchers from King's College London have identified the brain activity in a newborn baby when an association between different types of sensory experiences indicate 'learning.'

Using advanced MRI scanning techniques together with robotics, the researchers found a baby's brain activity can be changed through these associations, shedding new light on the possibility of rehabilitating babies with injured brains and promoting the development of life-long skills such as speech, language and movement.

Published recently in Cerebral Cortex, the researchers built on the fact that learning associations is a very important part of babies' development but the activity inside the brain that was responsible for learning these associations was unknown and unstudied.

Lead researcher, Dr Tomoki Arichi said it is the first time it has been shown that babies' brain activity can be altered through associative learning - and in particular, brain responses become associated with particular stimuli, in this case, sound. Dr. Arichi: "We also found that when a baby is learning, it actually is activating lots of different parts of the brain, so it is starting to incorporate the 'wider network' inside the brain which is important for processing activity."
A total of 24 infants were studied by playing them a sound of a jingling bell for 6 seconds, coupled with gentle movement induced by a custom-made 3D printed robot strapped to their right hand.

During this time, their resulting brain activity was measured using functional MRI (fMRI). After 20 minutes of learning an association between the two types of stimuli, the babies then just heard the sound on its own and the resulting brain activity was compared to that seen before the period of learning.

Dr Arichi believes that not only do these results provide new information about what is happening inside the normal baby brain when it is learning, but also have implications for an injured brain. If a baby was not capable of processing movement, or movement is not associated with normal activity inside the brain (as might be the case in a baby with cerebral palsy), clinicians would then be able to induce that activity by learning an association with sound, and using the sound simulation to try and amplify and rehabilitate their movement.
"With our findings it raises the possibility of trying to do something to help with that through targeted stimulation and learning associations. It is possible to induce activity inside the part of the brain that normally processes movement, for instance, just by using a single sound. This could be used in conjunction with rehabilitation or to try and help guide brain development early in life."

Tomoki Arichi MBChB FRCPCH PhD Honorary Consultant in Paediatric Neurodisability Evelina London Children's Healthcare.

When babies are born, they have a new sensory experience around them that is completely different to what they would have been experiencing inside the womb. They must then start to quickly understand their environment and the relationships between different things happening, which is even more important in babies that have injuries to their brain. The researchers sought to understand how babies start to learn these key relationships between different kinds of sensory experiences and how this then contributes to the early stages of overall brain development.
"A baby's brain is constantly learning associations and changing its activity all the time so that it can respond to the new experiences that are around it.

In terms of influencing patients and interpreting it in a wider context, what it means is that we should be thinking about how we could help with disorders of brain development from a very early stage in life because we know that experience is constantly shaping the newborn brain's activity."

Tomoki Arichi MBChB FRCPCH PhD

Following birth, infants must immediately process and rapidly adapt to the array of unknown sensory experiences associated with their new ex-utero environment. However, although it is known that unimodal stimuli induce activity in the corresponding primary sensory cortices of the newborn brain, it is unclear how multimodal stimuli are processed and integrated across modalities. The latter is essential for learning and understanding environmental contingencies through encoding relationships between sensory experiences; and ultimately likely subserves development of life-long skills such as speech and language. Here, for the first time, we map the intracerebral processing which underlies auditory-sensorimotor classical conditioning in a group of 13 neonates (median gestational age at birth: 38 weeks + 4 days, range: 32 weeks + 2 days to 41 weeks + 6 days; median postmenstrual age at scan: 40 weeks + 5 days, range: 38 weeks + 3 days to 42 weeks + 1 days) with blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and magnetic resonance (MR) compatible robotics. We demonstrate that classical conditioning can induce crossmodal changes within putative unimodal sensory cortex even in the absence of its archetypal substrate. Our results also suggest that multimodal learning is associated with network wide activity within the conditioned neural system. These findings suggest that in early life, external multimodal sensory stimulation and integration shapes activity in the developing cortex and may influence its associated functional network architecture.

S Dall'Orso, W P Fifer, P D Balsam, J Brandon, C O?Keefe, T Poppe, K Vecchiato, A D Edwards, E Burdet and T Arichi.

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (grant EP/L016737/1 to S.D.) and in part by the Chalmers University of Technology Area of Advance in Life Science Engineering (to S.D.). Data acquisition and analysis were funded through a Medical Research Council (MRC) Clinician Scientist Fellowship (MR/P008712/1 to T.A. and T.P.). Device development were supported in part by the European Commission (grants H2020 ICT-644727 COGIMON, FETOPEN-829186 PH-CODING, MSCA-ITN 861166 INTUITIVE to E.B.), as well as by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) MOTION (grant EP/NO29003/1 to E.B.). The authors additionally acknowledge support from the Department of Health via the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) comprehensive Biomedical Research Centre award to Guy?s & St Thomas? NHS Foundation Trust in partnership with King?s College London and King?s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, and the Wellcome Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Centre for Medical Engineering at Kings College London (WT 203148/Z/16/Z).

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Nov 27 2020   Fetal Timeline   Maternal Timeline   News

In order to perceive our environment and constructively interact with it, brain encoded sensory signals need to be interpreted in the context of previous experience. A team of scientists led by Dr. Johannes Letzkus, at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research, has identified a key source of this experience-dependent top-down information. CREDIT stock.adobe.com.

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