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Images of the brain at work

A team of EU-funded researchers have combined two technologies to study the brain and the effect of neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis.

Health

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is one of the most debilitating neurological diseases affecting young adults. Constant relapses and loss of function in the early stages take their toll not only on quality of life but also on health care costs, and are responsible for loss of productivity at work. European scientists in the MS, FMRI, ERP project have recently completed a study where they measured brain responses to a thought or a perception. To do this, they combined functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with event-related potentials (ERPs) to produce a real-time image of the neurological changes occurring in the human brain while performing tasks. Project scientists were successful in their bid to record ERPs at the same time as imaging with fMRI. This provided evidence of time-recorded events in different brain regions during well-characterised cognitive tasks. The researchers observed compensatory mechanisms in the face of cognitive and motor abnormalities in MS patients. Importantly, there was evidence of plasticity or the ability to make new neural connections after damage. The results also provided information on age-related changes and how selective areas are activated to compensate and optimise performance during tasks. This promises to provide a basis for future research into brain plasticity during the normal ageing process. Integration of electrophysiological data from ERPs and functional scanning is set to answer many questions relating to brain function and compensatory mechanisms for damage due to disease and injury. Improved therapies will help to reduce the high social and medical cost of brain malfunction.

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