An electric shock in order to boost the brain power: the application of a weak electric current on the head reinforces the nerve connections and enhances memory through the production of brain growth factor and it lasts longer. This is the result of an interesting research carried out at the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart and published online in the journal "Scientific Reports."

Possible applicative implications should be to counter the typical age of cognitive decline. Researchers have shown that it is possible to increase the memory of mice with a single session lasting 20 minutes with transcranial direct current electrical stimulation – a non-invasive technique already clinically tested for various diseases – that is to send to the brain a current of very low intensity, pain-free and not perceived by the subject.

The study showed that in mice a single session of stimulation is able to induce in the center of the memory, the hippocampus, a strengthening of connections between neurons, the "synapses", indispensable for transmit and store the information. Accordingly, the mice were shown to have a better memory even several days after treatment. Researchers have identified, in particular, the mechanism responsible for these effects: it is a cascade of molecular signals that activates nerve cells in the production of the brain growth factor.

The technique and the study

Transcranial direct current stimulation is the application, using two electrodes placed on the head, a low-intensity electric currents for several minutes.It is already a proven technique with encouraging results in several neuropsychiatric disorders.

The researchers subjected the mice to a single "dose stimulation" lasting 20 minutes and have shown that this treatment increases the "plasticity" of hippocampal neurons, which strengthens the function of synapses which are the connections between nerve cells that make it possible to fix the information in the memory.

The memory has been studied in mice using two behavioural tests that investigate, respectively, the animal's ability to learn and then remember the location of a platform hidden under the water inside a tank, and the animals' to recognise an object known to him with respect to an unknown object.The novelty of this study lies primarily in having revealed the molecular mechanisms responsible for the effects of tDCS on synaptic plasticity and memory.

This mechanism makes reason, inter alia, of the duration of the effects in time and makes it founded, from a rational point of view, the use of this method in the context of neuropsychiatric pathologies.

In this study, researches analysed the effects produced by a "single" stimulation lasting a few minutes and they were pleasantly surprised by noticing that the benefit in terms of memory was observed even after a week away.

Scientists are now investigating how longthe beneficial effect of repetitive stimulation may last. This research will continuein order to validate in humans the results obtained in animal models and extend our findings to other areas and brain function.