Allan Mai ‘20
The hippocampus and striatal circuits play essential roles in spatial navigation. This task is completed by integrating information from the environment as well as intrinsic input from the vestibular system which is responsible for balance. Scientists are trying to modify the interaction of the hippocampus and striatal circuits by using the galvanic vestibular system (GVS), and researchers from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases are using GVS to observe the extent of improvement of hippocampal and striatal activities. In animals, lesions in the vestibular system are attributed to hippocampal atrophy, and the results of this study could prove to be a stepping stone in developing a treatment to improving those with such lesions.
GVS uses weak currents to stimulate the vestibular system non-invasively. These currents can vary from fluctuating and noisy currents to constant and steady ones. Animal models have shown that constant stimulation can affect how neurons fire and can also influence cognitive abilities like facial recognition. The current study, however, is taking a novel approach by utilizing noisy GVS. Noisy GVS has shown to enhance weak sensory signals as a result of Gaussian noise. The experiment compared the effects of these stimulations by using the GVS signals on the experimental group and sham signals on the control group. Results showed no difference in males and females in either of these groups as well as no baseline cognitive differences between the experimental and control groups. In another phase of the experiment, the learning phase, stimulation did improve spatial memory for males and females. The results also conveyed sex to play a role in this as males outperformed females in terms of spatial memory.
Researchers have been trying to develop ways to improve cognitive abilities for decades. From simple things approaches like listening to Mozart to newer techniques like GVS, scientists hope to improve the minds of future generations with advanced techniques.
- D. Hilliard, et. al., Noisy galvanic vestibular stimulation modulates spatial memory in young healthy adults. Scientific Reports 9, 9310 (2019).
- Image retrieved from: https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-wearing-hearing-aid-1251174/