Professor Rodger leads a research team investigating mechanisms of brain plasticity. Her most recent work focuses on the use of non-invasive brain stimulation to promote morphological and functional repair of injured and abnormal brain circuits and restore normal behaviour.
Electrical activity between brain cells is crucial for our everyday function but we recently demonstrated that changing brain activity by applying electromagnetic stimulation can alter brain organisation so that in some cases, the brain may work better.
Sequential electromagnetic pulses (repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation – or rTMS) is a common method used to electrically stimulate the brain and can improve symptoms in people with diverse disorders such as depression, epilepsy and tinnitus.
To better understand what magnetic stimulation does to the brain, Professor Rodger and her team tested a low-intensity version of the therapy – known as low-intensity repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (LI-rTMS) – on genetically modified mice which have abnormally organised brains. Their results showed that weak magnetic pulses can shift abnormal neural connections to more normal locations. This fits with their previous work showing that rTMS also improves some aspects of brain function. Importantly, this reorganisation is associated with changes in a specific brain chemical, called brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and occurred in several brain regions, across a whole network. Importantly, this structural reorganisation was not seen in the healthy brain or in normal connections within the abnormal mice, suggesting that the therapy could have minimal side effects in humans.
The research team’s findings greatly increased their understanding of the specific cellular and molecular events that occur in the brain during rTMS therapy and have implications for how best to use rTMS in humans to treat disease and improve brain function.
- Professor Rachel Sherrard, University P&M Curie