Illustrated By Jenny Kraemer.
Beyond their critical role in the art of fridge anagrams, magnets are easy to underestimate. But, researchers at the University of Western Australia remind us why they shouldn’t be forgotten: The team used magnetic stimulation to spark changes in the structure of neurons.
The study, published this week in the Journal of Neuroscience, aimed to find out how the technique physically reorganizes and repairs a network of neurons. To do so, they gave healthy and visually impaired mice a 10-minute, low-intensity session of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) pulses once per day for two weeks. This temporarily and non-invasively stimulated the mice's neurons using a magnetic field. The investigators, lead by Kalina Makowiecki, found that the visual areas of the brains of the impaired mice had been reorganized and corrected, while the healthy mice saw no effects from TMS.
To top it off, the researchers also looked at the mice’s levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a key element in forging new synapses. Mirroring the physical effects following TMS, they saw that BDNF levels were higher in mice that had undergone even just a single session. So, they concluded that TMS can create an environment that makes it easier for the brain to structurally repair itself, and that a lower intensity TMS session may have just as great an effect as a more serious one.
Although this study was done with mice, TMS has been shown to be an effective treatment for a variety of neurological disorders in humans, including severe depression. Lower BDNF levels have also been linked to depression in humans, so these results indicate that TMS may beneficially change the brain’s workings at multiple levels. And, because it’s noninvasive, TMS could become an attractive option for those dealing with drug-resistant mental illnesses that have been traditionally treated with electroconvulsive therapy.
But, of course, TMS is still best suited to making hilarious videos of switching off specific parts of the brain.
Click through to the next page to see how TMS makes it impossible to complete a full sentence, wiggle your finger, or just count to 10.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation uses an electromagnetic coil to disrupt the brain's cognitive processes, resulting in perhaps the best way to immediately shut someone up.