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Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Eight research teams working with DARPA to discover best ways to activate neuroplasticity and accelerate learning

DARPA Funds Brain-Stim­u­la­tion Research to Speed Learn­ing (DoD news):

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is work­ing with sev­en U.S. uni­ver­si­ties and ele­ments of the Air Force and Army on research that seeks to stim­u­late the brain in a non-inva­sive way to speed up learn­ing.

DARPA announced the Tar­get­ed Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty Train­ing, or TNT, pro­gram last March, and work now has begun on the effort to dis­cov­er the safest and most effec­tive ways to acti­vate a nat­ur­al process called “synap­tic plas­tic­i­ty.”

Plas­tic­i­ty is the brain’s abil­i­ty to strength­en or weak­en its neur­al con­nec­tions to adapt to changes in the envi­ron­ment. For TNT Pro­gram Man­ag­er Dr. Doug Weber, such plas­tic­i­ty is about learn­ing.”

  • An Ari­zona State Uni­ver­si­ty team is tar­get­ing trigem­i­nal nerve stim­u­la­tion to pro­mote synap­tic plas­tic­i­ty in the brain’s sen­so­ri­mo­tor and visu­al sys­tems.
  • A Wright State Uni­ver­si­ty-Ohio team will iden­ti­fy epi­ge­net­ic mark­ers of neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty and indi­ca­tors of a person’s response to vagal nerve stim­u­la­tion, or VNS.
  • A Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­si­ty-Mary­land team focus­es on brain regions involved in speech and hear­ing to under­stand plasticity’s effects on lan­guage learn­ing.
  • A Uni­ver­si­ty of Flori­da team is iden­ti­fy­ing which brain neur­al path­ways VNS acti­vates.
  • Anoth­er Uni­ver­si­ty of Flori­da team will com­bine flu­o­res­cent imag­ing and opto­ge­net­ics to test neur­al cir­cu­ity that con­nects cen­ters in the deep brain to deci­sion-mak­ing regions in the pre­frontal cor­tex, and opti­mize VNS para­me­ters in this cir­cuit­ry.
  • A Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land team is study­ing the impact of VNS on for­eign lan­guage learn­ing.
  • A Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas-Dal­las team is iden­ti­fy­ing stim­u­la­tion para­me­ters to max­i­mize plas­tic­i­ty, and com­par­ing the effects of inva­sive ver­sus non-inva­sive stim­u­la­tion in peo­ple with tin­ni­tus as they per­form com­plex learn­ing tasks such as acquir­ing a for­eign lan­guage.
  • A Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin team is using state-of-the-art opti­cal imag­ing, elec­tro­phys­i­ol­o­gy and neu­ro­chem­i­cal sens­ing tech­niques in ani­mal mod­els to mea­sure the influ­ence of vagal and trigem­i­nal nerve stim­u­la­tion on boost­ing neu­ro­mod­u­la­to­ry neu­ron activ­i­ty in the brain.

The Program

Tar­get­ed Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty Train­ing (TNT), at DARPA. From the pro­gram descrip­tion:

Tar­get­ed Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty Train­ing (TNT) seeks to advance the pace and effec­tive­ness of a spe­cif­ic kind of learning—cognitive skills training—through the pre­cise acti­va­tion of periph­er­al nerves that can in turn pro­mote and strength­en neu­ronal con­nec­tions in the brain. TNT will pur­sue devel­op­ment of a plat­form tech­nol­o­gy to enhance learn­ing of a wide range of cog­ni­tive skills, with a goal of reduc­ing the cost and dura­tion of the Defense Department’s exten­sive train­ing reg­i­men, while improv­ing out­comes. If suc­cess­ful, TNT could accel­er­ate learn­ing and reduce the time need­ed to train for­eign lan­guage spe­cial­ists, intel­li­gence ana­lysts, cryp­tog­ra­phers, and oth­ers.

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