Stroke is one of the most common causes of disability. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 795,000 people in the United States will experience a stroke every year. Strokes occur when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, due to either a blockage (ischemic stroke) or a ruptured blood vessel (hemorrhagic stroke). Blood normally delivers life-sustaining oxygen to the brain. But without that timely and constant delivery, the affected areas become damaged and can eventually result in disability or death to the individual. Survivors are often left with weakness or paralysis of their limbs.
Modest recovery restoring some of the lost brain function can occur naturally after a stroke. Researchers at TxBDC are using Targeted Plasticity Therapy (TPT) with vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) to enhance this natural neuroplasticity, specifically with the aim of increasing restoration of motor function lost due to stroke.
Stimulation of the neck’s vagus nerve releases chemicals in the brain that strengthen active connections that may have been damaged by the loss of neural input after a stroke or trauma. TPT involves pairing VNS with stimuli such as touch or movement in the hopes of drive specific forms of beneficial plasticity.
This targeted plasticity could be used to restore lost functions. As the patient’s condition improves, a new brain region could gain the ability to generate the impaired movement. Vagus nerve stimulation delivered during physical therapy has the potential to drive plasticity, accelerating recovery.
In 2014, TxBDC was awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health to test the effectiveness of using TPT with VNS to enhance recovery from stroke in an older population. Specifically, our researchers are examining changes in dendrites, the part of nerve cells in the brain that receives signals from other neurons. We are focusing on the motor cortex region of the brain that controls upper limb (arm) function.
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