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Randolph Helfrich at the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues devised a way to enhance or reduce gamma oscillations of around 40 hertz using a non-invasive technique called transcranial alternating current stimulation (t ACS).
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The strobe was tuned to 40 hertz and was designed to manipulate the rodents’ brainwaves, triggering a host of biological effects that eliminated the plaque-forming proteins.
Although promising findings in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease have been notoriously difficult to replicate in humans, the experiment offered some tantalizing possibilities.
Scientists suggested that these waves could be helping to solidify memories.
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Brainwaves also seem to influence conscious perception.Scientists have long wondered what purpose, if any, this hum of activity serves, and some clues have emerged over the past three decades.For instance, in 1994, discoveries in mice indicated that the distinct patterns of oscillatory activity during sleep mirrored those during a previous learning exercise.Although a single firing neuron cannot be picked up through the electrodes of an EEG, when a group of neurons fires again and again in synchrony, it shows up as oscillating electrical ripples that sweep through the brain.Those of the highest frequency are gamma waves, which range from 25 to 140 hertz.Tsai’s study was the first glimpse of a cellular response to brainwave manipulation.“Her results were a really big surprise,” says Walter Koroshetz, director of the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland.When Tsai later dissected them, those that had been to the mini dance parties had significantly lower levels of plaque than mice that had spent the same time in the dark.Tsai, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, says she checked the result; then checked it again.Now, a growing body of evidence, including Tsai’s findings, hint at a meaningful connection to neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.The work offers the possibility of forestalling or even reversing the damage caused by such conditions without using a drug.