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Understanding the Function of Brain Networks through Neuromodulation

Dr. Christine Tipper and Dr. Todd Woodward work to better understand the role of brain networks in cognition and behaviour. They explore how modulation of brain networks might improve recovery in people with schizophrenia.

Our current 256-channel electroencephalography (EEG) system provides a measure of brain network activity, which renders a temporal resolution three orders of magnitude finer than fMRI. 

Recent work makes it possible to map out three to four times as many brain networks as fMRI, revealing transient brain processes that interact dynamically. This shows us functional brain network configurations. 

The CNoS Lab is one of the first in the world to successfully develop ways to measure networks of combined frequencies of changes during a range of tasks.  Adding a Geodesic Transcranial Electrical Neuromodulation (GTEN) system will allow our lab to work on further research on brain networks and schizophrenia, using a method known as transcranial Alternating Current Stimulation (tACS).

What is tACS?

tACS is a safe, painless, non-invasive brain stimulation technology that holds great promise as a therapeutic application for neurocognitive, neurological and neuropsychiatric brain health conditions.

This neuromodulatory technique uses an oscillating sinusoidal current to interact with the brain's natural cortical oscillations. It applies a weak electrical current (~ 0.025-0.1 mA/cm2) to the scalp.

The low-intensity current does not directly alter brain activity; it temporarily changes the excitability of targeted cortical regions, allowing us to study the function of brain network activities.

The current used in tACS is often unnoticeable but faint tingling sensations on the scalp may be felt.

What is the GTEN system?

Geodesic Transcranial Electrical Neuromodulation (GTEN) is the latest advance in neuromodulation technology. It delivers small amounts of highly specific patterns of alternating electric current across the entire 256-channel electrode system to excite or suppress neuron activity in specific areas of the brain.

This new GTEN hardware compliments our high-density EEG system. It can test theories on the function of specific brain networks organized by frequency-specific neuronal oscillatory activity. GTEN also allows concurrent EEG measurement and stimulation. This is a new way to directly assess the effects of electrical stimulation on brain activity.  Our results so far suggest that a pre-treatment with neuromodulation should improve performance on cognitive tasks in people with schizophrenia.

How to participate

Our lab is recruiting people without lived experiences of mental illness to participate in studies so we can better understand brain networks. These studies will help our researchers to develop procedures to do the following:

  • Influence network-level brain function using a targeted approach
  • Directly assess the effects of specific neuromodulation sequences on cognitive, behavioural, and neural function
  • Test theories on the role of some brain network configurations in specific aspects of cognition and behaviour

To learn more, contact Brain Dynamics Lab.

References

  1. Whitman, J.C., Takane, Y., Cheung, T., Moiseev, A., Ribary, U., Ward, L.M., and Woodward, T.S., Acceptance of evidence-supported hypotheses generates a stronger signal from an underlying functionally-connected network. NeuroImage, 2016. 127: p. 215-226. PDF
  2. Whitman, J.C., Ward, L.M., and Woodward, T.S., Patterns of cortical oscillations organize neural activity into whole-brain functional networks evident in the fMRI BOLD signal. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2013. 7: p. 1-4. PDF
  3. Metzak, P. (2017). Multimodal examination of brain networks involved in attentional biasing in schizophrenia. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of British Columbia Neuroscience Program. Todd Woodward Primary supervisor.


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