Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Exclusive subscriber news

By Stephen Luntz

Subscribe for complete access to all news articles, columns and features each month.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Brain Stimulation Explained
A study of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) on mice has improved our understanding of a treatment already in clinical use but conducted with little comprehension of how it works.

A/Prof Jennifer Rodger of the University of Western Australia’s School of Animal Biology says the idea of using electricity to improve the brain’s function goes back to the ancient Romans, who put electric fish on themselves to cure headaches. The discovery that the brain operates electrically put the idea on a firmer basis.

rTMS avoids the excruciating pain associated with electroconvulsive shock therapy by having magnetic stimulation generate electrical impulses inside the brain so that the electric charge does not need to cross the skin. The electric currents are also much weaker.

Magnetic stimulation was first used to map the brain, with magnetic fields applied to certain areas that produce reactions in particular parts of the body.

Nevertheless, not much has been done in terms of animal experimentation, and since it is hard to examine the brains of people who have undergone rTMS immediately afterwards, an explanation of how it works remains elusive.

Rodger is the first to produce a magnetic coil scaled to a mouse brain rather than something suited to a much larger animal. She used a...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.