Establishing Network Targets during Development for Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation

Award: $37,549

There is some evidence to suggest that directly stimulating the brain with a targeted, low-level electrical current may yield positive effects on certain cognitive disorders. By extension, this study will attempt to learn whether non-invasive brain stimulation can be a successful method of treating schizophrenia in its earliest phases (most typically manifesting in young adults).

Yuhui Li, Ph.D.

Need/Problem: Some psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia are neurodevelopment diseases which require earlier diagnose and prevention far before the onset of symptoms.

Grant Summary: This grant is innovative in that it will target the brain in early development stage to predict and prevent psychiatric disorder.

Goals & Projected Outcomes: The goal of this study is to set up an animal model of schizophrenia and investigate the animals’ behavioral in adulthood as well as their physiological properties in very young age. The results will benefit future application of non-invasive brain stimulation to prevent the disorder.

Grant Details: Schizophrenia affects about 1% of the population and severely disrupts the patients’ cognitive, emotional and social function. So far there is no effective way to prevent the occurrence of the disease. One of the reasons is that although it is normally diagnosed in early-adulthood, schizophrenia has its pathological origin in (prenatal) development. Thus, we seek to diagnose and intervene the developing of the disorder in early development stage.

Transcranial electrical brain stimulation is a novel, non-invasive approach to alter brain function. We propose to apply this stimulation to children of high risk to reverse and prevent the development of schizophrenia. Although stimulation has been proven to effectively change the brain function in adult, little is known about the effects of stimulation on the developing brain. However, for ethical and technical reasons it is premature and not justifiable to perform research studies that apply electric brain stimulation to children at risk for schizophrenia. Rather, we will develop and use an animal model of schizophrenia as a first step.

Inspired by the epidemiology studies which show infection in pregnancy significantly increase risk of schizophrenia, we will infect the pregnant animals and use behavioral tasks to test their offspring after they grow up to confirm if they have symptoms similar to the schizophrenia patients. Once we confirm that the schizophrenia-like disease is established in the model animals, we will apply electrical stimulation to these animals at a young age, and simultaneously use electrodes to record the electrical signals in the brain to study the effects of stimulation. Understanding the mechanisms of how the stimulation changes the electric activity in the developing brain will pave the way to develop stimulation devices and strategies which will eventually prevent schizophrenia.