Portable brain-mapping device allows researchers to 'see' where memory fails

June 18, 2014
Bioengineering Professor Hanli Liu, left, and Alexa Smith-Osborne, associate professor of Social Work, discuss their work with student veterans who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Credit: UT Arlington

UT Arlington researchers have successfully used a portable brain-mapping device to show limited prefrontal cortex activity among student veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder when they were asked to recall information from simple memorization tasks.

The study by bioengineering professor Hanli Liu and Alexa Smith-Osborne, an associate professor of social work, and two other collaborators was published in the May 2014 edition of NeuroImage: Clinical. The team used functional near to map activity responses during cognitive activities related to digit learning and memory retrial.

Smith-Osborne has used the findings to guide treatment recommendations for some veterans through her work as principal investigator for UT Arlington's Student Veteran Project, which offers free services to veterans who are undergraduates or who are considering returning to college.

"When we retest those student veterans after we've provided therapy and interventions, they've shown marked improvement," Smith-Osborne said. "The fNIRS data have shown improvement in brain functions and responses after the student veterans have undergone treatment."

Liu said this type of brain imaging allows us to "see" which brain region or regions fail to memorize or recall learned knowledge in student veterans with PTSD.

"It also shows how PTSD can affect the way we learn and our ability to recall information, so this new way of brain imaging advances our understanding of PTSD." Liu said.

This study is multi-disciplinary, associating objective brain imaging with neurological disorders and social work.

While UT Arlington bioengineering faculty associate Fenghua Tian is the primary author assisted by bioengineering graduate research assistant Amarnath Yennu, collaborators of the study include UT Austin psychology professor Francisco Gonzalez-Lima and psychology professor Carol North with UT Southwestern Medical Center and the Veterans Administration North Texas Health Care System.

Khosrow Behbehani, dean of the UT Arlington College of Engineering, said this collaborative research is "allowing the researchers to objectively measure the changes in the level of oxygen in the brain and relate them to some of the brain functions that may have been adversely affected by trauma or stress."

Numerous neuropsychological studies have linked learning dysfunctions – such as memory loss, attention deficits and learning disabilities – with PTSD.

The new study involved 16 combat veterans previously diagnosed with PTSD who were experiencing distress and functional impairment affecting cognitive and related academic performance. The veterans were directed to perform a series of number-ordering tasks on a computer while researchers monitored their brain activity through near infrared spectroscopy, a noninvasive neuroimaging technology.

The research found that participants with PTSD experienced significant difficulty recalling the given digits compared with a control group. This deficiency is closely associated with dysfunction of a portion in the right frontal cortex. The team also determined that near infrared spectroscopy was an effective tool for measuring cognitive dysfunction associated with PTSD.

With that information, Smith-Osborne said mental healthcare providers could customize a treatment plan best suited for that individual.

"It's not a one-size-fits-all treatment plan but a concentrated effort to tailor the treatment based on where that person is on the learning scale," Smith-Osborne said.

Smith-Osborne and Liu hope that their research results lead to better and more comprehensive care for veterans and a better college education.

Explore further: Veterans with traumatic brain injuries and combat-related challenges

More information: www.sciencedirect.com/science/ … ii/S2213158214000618

Related Stories

Veterans with traumatic brain injuries and combat-related challenges

February 3, 2014
Virginia Commonwealth University researchers have found that among traumatic brain injury-diagnosed veterans treated by the Veterans Health Administration between 2009 and 2011, the majority had a clinician-diagnosed mental ...

For combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, 'fear circuitry' in the brain never rests

May 18, 2013
Chronic trauma can inflict lasting damage to brain regions associated with fear and anxiety. Previous imaging studies of people with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, have shown that these brain regions can over-or ...

Can virtual reality-based therapy help veterans overcome posttraumatic stress disorder?

March 25, 2014
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is common among military veterans and together with the often-related anxiety, depression, and psychological and emotional impairment can dramatically affect quality of life. A type of ...

Vietnam veterans sue US military over trauma

March 3, 2014
The U.S. military has failed to upgrade the discharges of Vietnam war veterans who developed post-traumatic stress disorder, resulting in stigma and loss of benefits, according to a federal lawsuit filed Monday.

Five-question clinical tool the first to help screen risk of violence in military veterans

June 4, 2014
A new brief, 5-question screening tool can help clinicians identify which veterans may be at greater risk of violence, according to a new study led by a UNC researcher.

Young vets with PTSD receive more CT scans

May 2, 2013
(HealthDay)—Computed tomography (CT) scans are significantly more commonly used in young veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) compared to young veterans without PTSD, according to research published in the ...

Recommended for you

In witnessing the brain's 'aha!' moment, scientists shed light on biology of consciousness

July 27, 2017
Columbia scientists have identified the brain's 'aha!' moment—that flash in time when you suddenly become aware of information, such as knowing the answer to a difficult question. Today's findings in humans, combined with ...

Scientists block evolution's molecular nerve pruning in rodents

July 27, 2017
Researchers investigating why some people suffer from motor disabilities report they may have dialed back evolution's clock a few ticks by blocking molecular pruning of sophisticated brain-to-limb nerve connections in maturing ...

Social influences can override aggression in male mice, study shows

July 27, 2017
Stanford University School of Medicine investigators have identified a cluster of nerve cells in the male mouse's brain that, when activated, triggers territorial rage in a variety of situations. Activating the same cluster ...

Scientists become research subjects in after-hours brain-scanning project

July 27, 2017
A quest to analyze the unique features of individual human brains evolved into the so-called Midnight Scan Club, a group of scientists who had big ideas but almost no funding and little time to research the trillions of neural ...

Researchers reveal unusual chemistry of protein with role in neurodegenerative disorders

July 27, 2017
A common feature of neurodegenerative diseases is the formation of permanent tangles of insoluble proteins in cells. The beta-amyloid plaques found in people with Alzheimer's disease and the inclusion bodies in motor neurons ...

Mother's brain reward response to offspring reduced by substance addiction

July 27, 2017
Maternal addiction and its effects on children is a major public health problem, often leading to high rates of child abuse, neglect and foster care placement. In a study published today in the journal Human Brain Mapping, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.