Training the Brain Using Neurofeedback

A new study carried out by the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital and McGill University has shown that an advanced brain-imaging technology called magnetoencephalography (MEG) can be used as a potential therapeutic tool for numerous neurological and neuropsychiatric conditions.

MEG is a non-invasive imaging technology that measures magnetic fields generated by nerve cell circuits in the brain. It is incredibly accurate and takes only a millisecond to produce results across the entire brain. "This means you can observe your own brain activity as it happens," says Dr. Sylvain Baillet, who was lead investigator on the study.

"We can use MEG for neurofeedback -- a process by which people can see on-going physiological information that they aren't usually aware of, in this case, their own brain activity, and use that information to train themselves to self-regulate. Our ultimate hope and aim is to enable patients to train specific regions of their own brain, in a way that relates to their particular condition. For example neurofeedback can be used by people with epilepsy so that they could train to modify brain activity in order to avoid a seizure."

In this proof of concept study, participants had nine sessions in the MEG and used neurofeedback to reach a specific target. The target was to look at a coloured disc on a display screen and find their own strategy to change the disc's colour from dark red to bright yellow white, and to maintain that bright colour for as long as possible. The disc colour was indexed on a very specific aspect of their on-going brain activity. The colour presented was changing according to a predefined combination of slow and faster brain activity within these regions. This was possible because the researchers combined MEG with MRI, which provides information on the brain's structures, known as magnetic source imaging (MSI).

"The remarkable thing is that with each training session, the participants were able to reach the target aim faster, even though we were raising the bar for the target objective in each session, the way you raise the bar each time in a high jump competition. These results showed that participants were successfully using neurofeedback to alter their pattern of brain activity according to a predefined objective in specific regions of their brain's motor cortex, without moving any body part. This demonstrates that MEG source imaging can provide brain region-specific real time neurofeedback and that longitudinal neurofeedback training is possible with this technique" commented Dr Baillet.

These findings pave the way for MEG as an innovative therapeutic approach for treating patients. To date, work with epilepsy patients has shown the most promise but there is great potential to use MEG to investigate other neurological syndromes and neuropsychiatric disorders such as stroke, dementia, movement disorders and chronic depression. MEG also has potential to reveal dynamics of brain activity involved in perception, cognition and behaviour.

The study was published in NeuroImage.

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A disease of long duration generally involving slow changes. Full medical glossary
The outer region of an organ. Full medical glossary
Decline in mental capacity, brain functioning and memory that affects day-to-day living. Full medical glossary
Feelings of sadness, hopelessness and a loss of interest in life, combined with a sense of reduced emotional well-being Full medical glossary
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Associated with the nervous system and the brain.

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