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Facilities and Equipment

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

All students receive full training in the use of TMS.

TMS is a non-invasive and painless brain stimulation technique which involves delivering a brief magnetic pulse through an inductive coil placed on the scalp over the motor cortex (M1: responsible for movement).

This stimulates the underlying neurons and results in a motor evoked potential (MEP), which causes a twitch in the associated contralateral muscle.

The amplitude and duration of this twitch can be measured using EMG and provides information about the excitation of the motor cortex. This technique provides researchers with information about the responsiveness of intracortical and corticospinal pathways.

TMS can be applied in a variety of paradigms. When applied repeatedly with carefully timed peripheral nerve electrical stimulation, this can change the excitability of the pathway and is termed “paired associative stimulation” (PAS). PAS involves a low frequency electrical stimulation of a peripheral nerve, followed by application of TMS at the contralateral M1. PAS induces changes in M1 excitability (neuroplasticity) which outlast the duration of the intervention by up to one hour, described as long term potentiation.

TMS is used in the Curtin’s Neuroscience Research Laboratory to examine cortical change (neuroplasticity) associated with rehabilitation techniques and different forms of exercise. This is done in both healthy and clinical populations (for example, stroke).

To minimalise the chance of the coil shifting during experiments and to ensure the coil is returned to the correct position when it does need to be removed, we are monitoring coil position with an NDI Polaris Vicra Optical Measurement System. This highly accurate and reliable real-time optical measuring device has two cameras that measure the 3D positions of markers attached to the coil and the head of the subject enabling it to monitor the position of the markers relative to each other in 3D.

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS)

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS)

All students receive full training in the use of tDCS.

tDCS is a non-invasive method of cortical stimulation which can be used to modulate the excitability of a targeted brain area. During tDCS, weak constant currents of up to 2mA are applied to the scalp via two surface electrodes. These currents penetrate the brain area of the underlying cortex and alter the level of cortical excitability, which in turn modulates the firing rate of individual neurons.

Using tDCS, two types of stimulation are possible – anodal and cathodal. Anodal tDCS increases the excitability of the underlying cortex and increases spontaneous neuronal firing.  Conversely, cathodal tDCS decreases the excitability on the underlying cortex and decreases spontaneous neuronal firing.

In most studies employing tDCS, sham tDCS is usually included as a control condition. During sham tDCS, the direct current is ramped up for a period of 30 seconds and subsequently switched off. Participants thus feel the initial tingling sensation associated with tDCS but without changes in cortical excitability.

A number of very recent studies suggest that anodal tDCS may affect motor and cognitive functioning. Recent research in this lab suggests that tDCS can be used to modulate spatial attention (Loftus and Nicholls, 2012). A number of studies in Curtin’s Neuroscience Research Laboratory examine the impact of tDCS on a range of different functions. If you are interested in finding out more about studies involving tDCS, please visit the ‘current research’ section of the webpage.

Neuropsychological Assessments

Curtin’s Neuroscience Research Laboratory also conducts research examining the cognitive function of healthy and clinical populations.

The Cambridge Automated Neuroscience Battery (CANTABTM) is used to assess spatial working memory, executive function, planning abilities, recognition memory, attention, inhibition,  and reaction time (to name a few). Pen-and-paper tests are used for some cognitive measures, including the AUSNART assessment of pre-morbid IQ, Hopkins Verbal Learning and the Controlled Oral Word Association Task (to name a few).

Exercise Interventions

It has been known for some time that aerobic exercise and resistance exercise provide many health benefits if performed regularly. Recently researchers have become interested in the flow on effect of maintaining strong cardiovascular and musculoskeletal  systems on the health of the nervous system. We are currently conducting studies that assess the effects of exercise on the ability of the brain to learn and adapt, called “plasticity”. This is of particular importance for older populations as the degradation of brain tissue is normal in old age, however it appears that exercise has effects that slow this process.