July 3, 2003 - A new stimulation technique coupled with drug therapy may help restore and improve the sense of touch. The approach could lead to new treatments to help stroke patients button their own shirts or professional pianists to tickle the ivories with greater precision.
The technique, called coactivation, uses finger stimulation and drugs to temporarily reorganize parts of the brain. The manual stimulation makes the area more sensitive and activates more neurons in the brain to process the sensory information, and certain drugs enhance this effect.
The results of initial tests of the new approach appear in the July 4 issue of Science.
In the study, participants wore small stimulating discs on the tip of their right index finger for three hours. Researchers then tested the patients' ability to detect pinpoints on the skin, and found that the stimulation heightened the sense of touch in this area for up to 24 hours.
The study also found that when stimulant amphetamines were given in addition to the stimulation therapy, the gains in touch sensitivity were doubled.
"In past experiments, we tested coactivation in people between 65 and 90 years old. The coactivation temporarily improved tactile acuity with little harassment to the subjects," says researcher Hubert Dinse of Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany, in a news release. "According to our new findings, certain drugs can enhance the effects of coactivation. The drug component makes this coactivation approach even more promising."
Dinse says future therapies based on this coactivation approach may aid in stoke treatment, improve a blind person's ability to read Braille, and help elderly people perform everyday tasks.