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A New Study Shows How Ultrasound Could be Used to Treat Psychiatric Disorders

A new study in monkeys has revealed how low-intensity transcranial ultrasound stimulation can modulate brain activity and behaviours related to the decision making and learning process.

For the study, the scientists stimulated the frontal cortex of the brain using the low intensity transcranial ultrasound stimulation (TUS). The four monkeys had learned to choose between two objects presented on a computer by pressing an adjacent touch sensor, with each object having a different value. For each object used in the study, the scientists had trained the monkeys to associate a certain ‘value’ with that choice.  

They found that after stimulating the targeted brain area, the monkeys in the study became more exploratory in their decisions, showing their behaviour was no longer guided by ‘choice value’ (the level of ‘reward’ or ‘value’ associated with a certain choice’).

Results also showed how this process remained intact if a different part of the pre-frontal cortex was stimulated, therefore showing how task-related brain modulation is specific to specific brain areas. These specific areas of the brain are the areas responsible for regulating certain cognitive processes.

These results have given scientists hope that their research could one day be applied to clinical research to tackle psychiatric conditions where patients display risky decision making.

'The really interesting finding in this study is not only discovering where certain decision making activities take place, but also how neuromodulation can change these and associated behaviours. We hope that this can pave the way to new studies in humans, particularly in patients experiencing mental health issues.' First author of the study, Dr Elsa Fouragnan – UKRI Future Leader Fellow at the University of Plymouth .

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