“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.
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.