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Closed-loop brain training

English title Closed-loop brain training
Applicant Scharnowski Frank
Number 178841
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Psychiatrische Universitätsklinik Zürich
Institution of higher education University of Zurich - ZH
Main discipline Psychology
Start/End 01.06.2018 - 31.05.2023
Approved amount 618'592.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Psychology
Neurology, Psychiatry

Keywords (7)

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); Psychiatry; Depression; Neuroimaging; Neuropsychology; Biological psychology; Neurofeedback

Lay Summary (German)

Lead
Bisher wurden Bildgebungsmethoden des menschlichen Gehirns nur zur Diagnose von abweichender Hirnaktivität bei psychiatrischen Störungen eingesetzt. Neue Fortschritte erlauben nun deren Einsatz als therapeutisches Mittel. Hierzu wird die gemessene Hirnaktivität in Echtzeit analysiert und den Patienten unmittelbar dargestellt. Mit Hilfe solchen Neurofeedbacks können die Patienten lernen die aufgrund ihrer Störung abweichende Hirnaktivität zu normalisieren.
Lay summary

Eine solcher experimenteller Therapieansatz ist nicht-medikamentös, kann auf die individuellen Bedürfnisse eines jeden Patienten angepasst werden, berücksichtigt biologische sowie psychologische Aspekte der psychiatrischen Störung und gründet auf einer wesentlichen menschlichen Eigenschaft: Unserer Fähigkeit zu lernen. Obwohl dieser Ansatz noch sehr neu ist, wurden schon vielversprechende klinische Ergebnisse erzielt.

Unser Ziel ist es, den Neurofeedback-Ansatz methodisch weiter zu verbessern. Dazu werden wir das Neurofeedbacksignal den Patienten nicht wie üblich symbolisch repräsentieren (z.B. als Thermometerbild oder Smiley), sondern durch Bildreize die direkten Einfluss auf die zu trainierenden Gehirnregionen haben. Wir werden zum Beispiel Depressionspatienten Kontrolle über emotionale Gehirnregionen antrainieren, indem wir emotionale Gesichter zeigen deren Fröhlichkeit von der momentan Aktivität der zu trainierenden Regionen abhängt. Ein solches ‚closed-loop‘ Feedback ist motivierender, belebt das Handlungsbewusstsein und erhöht die Gehirnantwort auf positive emotionale Reize um Freude wieder stärker empfinden zu können.

Mit diesem Projekt wollen wir zur Entwicklung neuer Behandlungsformen beitragen, um dringend notwendige effektivere Behandlungsoptionen für belastende psychiatrische Störungen zu schaffen.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 09.05.2018

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Project partner

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
155915 Treatment of Human Brain Dysfunction with Neurofeedback. 01.10.2015 SNSF Starting Grants

Abstract

How the mind works is one of the fundamental questions in science. Biological psychology seeks to find answers to this question by studying how the brain produces behavior and mental functions such as perception, and emotions. One important technique in biological psychology is functional brain imaging, which provides measures of brain activity while the brain is at work. However, conventional imaging experiments are purely correlational and cannot be used to establish a causal link between brain activity and the mental functions that are studied. Recent developments in brain imaging technologies now allow for real-time analyses and neurofeedback of brain signal. Feedback is crucial for learning, and neurofeedback makes information about brain activity accessible to our consciousness. It allows participants to learn voluntary control over their own brain activity, and thus allows patients to learn to normalize abnormal patterns of brain activity that are associated with their disorder. Even though this approach is still in its infancy, neurofeedback training has shown to be remarkably resourceful and holds great promises both clinically and as a scientific tool. Here we will explore conceptually and technically unprecedented uses of neurofeedback. Instead of using a suboptimal symbolic representation of the feedback signal, for example using a thermometer icon, we will provide closed-loop brain training using feedback stimuli that inherently recruit the brain regions to be trained, i.e. they are related to the function of the trained brain area. Using this novel closed-loop approach, we will train healthy participants and depression patients to gain control over emotional brain areas by using emotional stimuli as a feedback signal, the valence of which will be determined based on ongoing activity in the trained emotional brain area. Such closed-loop feedback is more motivating, increases the patient’s sense of agency, and increases face validity by virtue of the fact that training is specific to the emotional cues that are related to the disorder. Closing the loop will also allow applying feedback loops derived from control theory models in order to shape brain dynamics. Positive feedback loops increase neuronal responsivity, which we will use to increase the response of emotional brain centers to positive stimuli, thus reducing anhedonia symptoms in depression patients. Negative feedback loops increase neuronal stability, which we will use to decrease hyperactivity of emotional brain centers to fearful, thus reducing anxiety symptoms in depression patients. Overall, this proposal puts forth challenging but feasible frontier research projects which apply conceptually and technically unprecedented uses of neurofeedback for innovative clinical applications. They will significantly contribute to translate cutting-edge technology to the clinics, to the benefit of patients and of society. It is a novel experimental therapy that is non-invasive and safe, that can be personalized to the individual needs of each patient, that integrates biological as well as psychological factors, and that focuses on a fundamental human capacity: our ability to learn.
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