July 04, 2003
Drug And Stimulation Combine To Improve Sense Of Touch

Stimulation combined with methamphetamine improved tactile sensitivity of people's fingertips.

Scientists used a stimulation technique to improve the sensitivity of people's fingertips, and then gave them drugs that either doubled or deleted this effect. Similar skin stimulation/drug treatment combinations may eventually help the elderly or stroke victims button shirts and aid professional pianists according to the authors of a paper appearing in the 04 July issue of the journal Science, published by AAAS, the science society.

Finger stimulations and drugs can temporarily reorganize parts of the human brain. This stimulation, called co-activation, shuffles the synapses that link neurons. The stimulated area becomes more sensitive as more neurons are recruited to process encountered tactile information. The scientists showed that amphetamine doubled stimulation-induced gains in tactile acuity. In the presence of an alternate drug, an NMDA blocker, the improvements in tactile acuity, or perceptual learning, gained via finger stimulations were lost.

Dinse said that related treatments could improve a person's ability to read Braille and that drug-mediated muscle stimulation could help the elderly and chronic pain patients perform everyday tasks.

"We are at the beginning of an era where we can interact with the brain. We can apply what we know about brain plasticity to train it to alter behavior. People are always trying to find ways to improve learning. What we tested is unconscious skill learning. How far could this carry to cognitive learning?…that remains to be seen," said Dinse.

"My personal opinion," Dinse maintained, "is that progress in brain pharmacology will sooner or later result in implications that are equally or possibly more dramatic than the implications tied to discussions about genes and cloning."

Drugs will almost certainly be developed that will enhance the training of the mind to increase specific types of sensitivity and discernment of sensory signals. The example of musicians who learn to discern finer grained differences between musical notes is another example. Also, drugs will be found - perhaps the same drugs - that will enhance the ability to learn new forms of coordination such as when learning a musical instrument. Also, drugs will be found that will enhance general learning without causing harmful side effects (unless, of course, you use the drugs to learn truly harmful ideas such as a vile and dangerous religious belief).

This technique restores some tactile acuity that is gradually lost thru aging.

"We were able to change the tactile acuity of 80-year-old subjects to a performance of a 50-year-old," Dinse said -- a 50 percent to 100 percent improvement.

This technique causes a portion of the brain to be reallocated toward processing sensory signals.

Coactivation causes a remapping of somatosensory cortex, in which the area used to represent the index finger becomes larger and produces a stronger EEG signal. In the new study, this cortical reorganisation was considerably more dramatic in the group that had received amphetamine.

Imagine the possibilities once scientists manage to find ways to increase the sensitivity of sex organs. That's one kind of enhancement that will overcome public opposition to human brain enhancement.

While Dinse is using amphetamines for his studies he recognises that they have too many effects including effects that are harmful. Another recent study reports that ex-users of methamphetamine show signs of neuronal damage.

But there is significant evidence that the drug can cause damage to the brain's neurons - the cells which are used for thinking.

Methamphetamine users have reduced concentrations of a chemical called N-acetyl-aspartate, which is a byproduct of the way neurons work.

Decrease in the brain levels of N-acetyl-aspartate occurs in a number of neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer's disease. It is found at lower levels even in ex-amphetamine users. Hence amphetamine appears to cause prolonged neuronal changes that likely are signs of neurological damage.

In a review of selenium metabolism (which is worth a read if you have any interest in selenium metabolism) the authors mention in passing that methamphetamine use causes free radical generation and damage to dopaminergic neurons.

Methamphetamine (MA) exposure of animals results in enhanced formation of superoxide radical (O2–) and nitric oxide (NO), which interact to produce peroxynitrite (OONO–). Peroxynitrite is a potent oxidant, leading to dopaminergic damage (Imam and Ali 2000). Thus, multiple dose administration of MA to mice results in long-lasting toxic effects in the nigrostriatal dopaminergic system, which is a relevant model of PD.

So kids, the moral of this story is don't try this at home. It is bad for you.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 July 04 03:24 AM  Biological Mind

DB said at July 8, 2003 10:56 AM:

Saccarine is sweet in small doses, causes can cancer in larger doses and kills in even larger doses. Alcohol is similar as are many things, including water.

None of this means that aphetamine or other drugs are bad. It's all in the dosage and how the substance is used which causes harm.

Obviously, the studies are very specialized and are not at all easy to understand without extensive education. It follows that this kind of news can be made to read as having more than one meaning.

Usually, the information that is provided to the public about drugs focuses on the very few users but when it comes to medication it's the very many that are important. Both are true but that doesn't mean that both are the answer. The answer is most assuredly not what is portrayed to us in a television commercial. The answer is more likely truthful education, compassion and thoughtfulness.

reader said at July 9, 2003 1:49 PM:

unless, of course, you use the drugs to learn truly harmful ideas such as a vile and dangerous religious belief

Why "religious belief," rather that "belief"? Are you a secular fundamentalist?

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