Improving memory, reasoning and judgment

Stimulating the caudate nucleus to improve cognitive performance in Parkinson’s Disease

Iman Beheshti
Postdoctoral Fellow
University of Manitoba
Basic Research Fellowship
$100,000 over 2 years

Increasingly, researchers are investigating ways to use low-level electrical fields to stimulate areas of the brain that are damaged because of Parkinson’s disease and other neurological illnesses.

At the University of Manitoba, Iman Beheshti, a postdoctoral fellow, is using one form of this electrical stimulation, called Transcranial Direct Caudate Stimulation (tDCS), to try to improve the cognitive abilities of people with Parkinson’s.

“Cognitive decline is a major issue among people with Parkinson’s — 20–50 percent suffer from it,” Beheshti says.

Unlike the movement disorder symptoms of the disease, which often respond well to medication, the decline in people’s memory and in their judgment and reasoning ability does not improve with current drugs.

Beheshti hopes to change those outcomes by applying tDCS to the caudate region of the brain, a region his colleagues have shown to be responsible for cognitive performance among people with Parkinson’s.

By placing electrodes on the scalp and creating a low level electrical current directly above the caudate, he believes he will be able to stimulate the damaged neurons in the area and get them firing again. Improving those connections should also improve cognition, he says.

“Cognitive decline is a major issue among people with Parkinson’s — 20–50 percent suffer from it.”

“We know which part of the brain is exactly responsible for cognitive decline among the patients who suffer from Parkinson’s disease, and we are going to apply tDCS exactly to that part of the brain,” Beheshti says.

Beheshti and his team will provide the people in his study with up to eight weeks of treatments at a time, and will follow them for about two years to see if tDCS improves their thinking, reasoning, judgment and memory.

As an electrical engineer by training, Beheshti was brought up in Iran and came to Canada as a postdoctoral fellow. He moved into the field of Parkinson’s disease and other degenerative neurological illnesses because he is determined that make sure his research is useful and improves quality of life.

The value of tDCS is because it is s relatively low cost, non-invasive, painless, safe and accessible, he says. People could eventually use portable machines at home, perhaps renting them from hospitals.

“Every day I see patients,” he says. “I’m happy that my research should open a therapeutic window for them.”