Neurofeedback is Now a Viable Treatment for Huntington’s Disease
Huntington’s disease (HD), also known as Huntington’s chorea, is an inherited disorder that results in the death of brain cells. It eventually leads to severe physical disability (patients lose the ability to walk and talk) and eventually death. Though it is a rare disease (worldwide prevalence of HD is 5–10 cases per 100,000 persons), it’s effects are debilitating and any new therapies to aid in the treatment of it are welcome, as it is considered very difficult to treat.
Researchers at University College London have shown that neurofeedback can increase connectivity in the brains of Huntington’s patients. Their study, “Stimulating neural plasticity with real-time fMRI neurofeedback in Huntington’s disease: A proof of concept study,” appeared in the journal Human Brain Mapping.
The study looked at increasing brain activity in the supplementary motor area (SMA). An increase in brain activity in this area was measured by fMRI, and the patients received real-time visual feedback (a rising a falling thermometer) to represent the signal recorded from the area. Patients then imagined themselves completing motor tasks to increase the activation of the SMA.
The researchers were able to identify functional and structural changes that occurred during neurofeedback training and which correlated with cognitive and motor improvement when compared to control statistics.
Advances Made in the Use of Neurofeedback for Increasing Motivation
Lack of motivation is a symptom that affects a wide variety of patients with psychiatric and/or neurological disorders. It is a symptom of ADD, depression, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and a host of others. Using real-time neurofeedback and fMRI scanning, researchers at Duke University targeted the part of the brain responsible for producing the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for learning, memory and motivation. It is commonly known as the “reward center”.
In the new study, the team encouraged participants in the scanner to generate feelings of motivation – using their own personal strategies. They weren’t able to raise their VTA activity consistently on their own, but were able to consistently with the aid of real-time neurofeedback. The boost in VTA activation worked even after the visual feedback was removed. As differentiated from the control group, only the participants who had received accurate neurofeedback were able to consistently raise their VTA levels.