15 Minutes to Learn a New Word?

Faster rehabilitation for stroke patients may be possible if treatments can harness the brain’s natural ability to remember and store new words in its long term memory, according to scientists from the CBU. Researchers led by Yury Shtyrov have found that after just 15 minutes of listening to a new word, the brain creates new networks of neurons to make up a long-term memory trace. This process happens far quicker than previously thought. The study complements previous research by the same group of CBU scientists to develop a treatment called constraint-induced aphasia therapy (CIAT), in which stroke patients who suffer from chronic language problems significantly improved their ability to speak and understand language after a short series of intensive speech-language-therapy sessions. In the latest study, the researchers attached electrodes to the heads of 16 healthy volunteers and recorded electrical

signals generated by their brains while they listened to 160 repetitions of new made-up words and familiar words. Scientists analysed how the brain activity changed over a period of 14 minutes as the made-up word became more and more familiar. Brain activity in response to these new words increased until the new memory traces were virtually indistinguishable from the memory traces of an already familiar word. Dr Yury Shtyrov who led the study said “We now know that even a little practice can lead to changes in the brain and the formation of new brain ‘networks’ that help us to memorise words. This research suggests that faster rehabilitation may be possible if treatments for people with brain damage, such as stroke patients, target the brain’s ability to rapidly create these memory traces. The next step is to test this theory in patients affected by stroke or other types of brain damage.” The paper ‘Rapid Cortical Plasticity Underlying Novel Word Learning’ is published today in the Journal of Neuroscience, and has received national press.  –  Yury Shtyrov Senior Scientist (PLT), Speech & Language Group; MEG Laboratory Manager. Main research areas: Automaticity of access to linguistic information in the brain. Neural timecourse of language processing. Memory traces for language elements: from phonemes to syntactic structures. Lateralisation of speech processing in the brain. Language learning. Development of neurophysiological paradigms for assessing the language function.  –  The MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit (CBU) is an internationally leading centre for research in the cognitive sciences and neurosciences, with close links to clinical neuroscience research in the University of Cambridge Medical School. Over 120 scientists, students, and support staff, primarily

based at the Unit’s Chaucer Rd site, are organised into four major research groupings, in the areas of Memory, Attention, Emotion, and Language. With dedicated 3T MRI (Siemens TIM Trio) and 306-channel MEG (Elekta-Neuromag) facilities available on site, the Unit has particular strengths in the application of neuro-imaging techniques in the context of well-developed neuro-cognitive theory. The Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit (CBU) has long-standing links with the University of Cambridge dating back to its foundation as the ‘Unit for Research in Applied Psychology’ within the Psychological Laboratory of Cambridge University during the Second World War. The Unit, which since 1953, has been located in its own self-contained premises, is fully funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), whose research mission is to improve human health. Although not a part of the University, for the last 50 yrs the CBU has maintained substantial contacts and collaborations with other experimental, clinical and neuroscience groups in the University of Cambridge, including the Departments of Experimental Psychology, Neurology, and Psychiatry, and more recently the Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre (WBIC) at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. The extensive synergies that such close links with other departments brings facilitates advances in the field of neuroscience and its clinical translations. Because of its excellent facilities and considerable research training experience, the CBU is recognised by the University as a “Non-University Institution” for the purposes of graduate study. This means that students can undertake their research at the Unit, while being registered for their degrees at the University of Cambridge and can enjoy all the benefits of University and College membership. News from: The MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit (CBU)

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