Studying the Brain’s NeuroCapacity at The Ohio State University Ross Center for Brain Health and Performance

The Neurological Institute in The Ohio State University (OSU) Wexner Medical Center created the Ross Center for Brain Health and Performance to investigate how improved brain health might enhance brain function and contribute to the amelioration of disease processes. The mission of the Ross Center is to use neuroscience to retain, regain and increase optimal brain performance. Ali Rezai, MD, Center Director, states, “The promise of this work is that the optimal performance of the brain will be re-conceptualized, fostering new clinical innovations for protecting and enhancing brain health.”

The study of brain health at OSU is not limited by age or the presence of brain disorders; nor will the nature of the investigations be limited to medical science. Breakthroughs may come from molecular, cellular, functional, behavioral or environmental insights, and may arise from the application of new discoveries in the physical, social, or natural sciences. The marriage of neuroscience and engineering toward the development of neuromodulation techniques is an example of the success that arises from embracing a “multi-science” approach. The Ross Center reflects this diversity in its a broad array of partnerships in multiple scientific communities, internal and external to The Ohio State University.

The Ross Center seeks to examine NeuroCapacity––the optimal brain performance for each individual at any given time. The Ross Center aims to (1) determine methods of measuring NeuroCapacity by monitoring the status of the nervous system on a moment-to-moment basis; (2) use identified knowledge of NeuroCapacity to optimize performance; (3) develop methods of managing or augmenting factors that which are found to impact NeuroCapacity; (4) explore how sleep and circadian biology could be optimized to more rapidly replenish one’s NeuroCapacity; and (5) identify specific circuits that can be modulated to expand one’s NeuroCapacity.

The Rudi Schulte Research Institute has funded 3 pilot studies that share the Ross Center’s focus on investigating the dynamic status of NeuroCapacity. While these studies has merit as an autonomous project, each are interconnected through an overarching research agenda which prioritizes identification of methodologies for measuring NeuroCapacity, investigation of the impact of sleep and its role in replenishment, and evaluation of the relationship between physical exertion and cognitive fatigue. Each project will contribute foundational insights to the Ross Center’s core mission.

Lifelogging an integrated, whole-body network

[link to video on OSU website?] Per B. Sederberg, PhD

“Lifelogging” seeks to detect the ebb and flow of NeuroCapacity through simultaneous monitoring of the entire nervous system, other organ system outputs, behavior, and the person’s environment. This pilot project will unify and extend several lines of inquiry in a longitudinal study during which we will track moment-to-moment changes in nervous system function, NeuroCapacity, and behavioral outputs using wearable sensors and randomly administered performance measures. Specifically, this life-logging study will track daily activities (with a non-intrusive device that takes photos and saves GPS location), record physiological data (including heart rate variability and galvanic skin response), and assess cognitive function and mental state with during everyday activities over the course of 100 days. These naturalistic data will be combined with in-lab EEG and fMRI sessions at the beginning of the experiment and after 50 days (during which physiological measurements will also be collected) to relate resting and task-based performance to neural measures. We will use a joint neural–behavioral modeling approach to relate physiological variables to neural processes, and neural processes to NeuroCapacity. This modeling will allow us to predict dynamic changes in NeuroCapacity.

Sleep, light, and inflammation

[link to videos on OSU website?] Randy J. Nelson, PhD and Ulysses Magalang, MD

This pilot study on sleep builds on our previous research on ambient light and sleep quality to integrate investigation on how inflammation might limit the restorative function of sleep. We propose to study the effects of dim light at night on inflammation, as well as sleep quality and quantity in a diurnal rodent species (grass rats), as well as in human participants. We will assess EEG and EMG biopotentials over the course of 3 consecutive days to determine differences in sleep timing, quality, and homeostasis in grass rats and people exposed to dark nights or dimly illuminated (5 lux) nights. We will assess neuroinflammation (TNFα, IL1, CRP, and IL6) in the brains of adult male Nile grass rats exposed to dark or dimly lit nights, and correlate these with circulating biomarkers of inflammation. In people, we will examine the circulating levels of the same proinflammatory cytokines. We will also examine sleep timing, quality, and homeostasis, as well as neuroinflammation in grass rats and humans exposed to dim red light or dark nights. Understanding what influences the rejuvenating function of sleep will provide insight into daily fluctuations in NeuroCapacity.

Gamification of therapeutic effort

[link to video on OSU website?] Lynne Gauthier, PhD

This pilot study extends gamification of therapeutic effort to persons with multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease in which depletion of capacity (i.e., fatigue) is a central symptom. We will examine how NeuroCapacity varies with therapeutic effort. This work represents secondary hypotheses in a randomized controlled clinical trial that is being conducted to assess the feasibility and initial efficacy of a game-based treatment for arm weakness in progressive MS. Forty-six participants will be randomized to 5 hours of in-home occupational therapy over 3 weeks with or without a target 30 hours of supplemental game-based rehabilitation. Motor function tests administered before and after the intervention will serve as a valid and reliable measure of time to complete standardized functional movements. Functional movement recordings detected via wearable sensors and a Kinect-based motor assessment will be recorded daily to establish dose-response curves. NeuroCapacity will be quantified via kinematic analysis of continuous game play data to assess its association with fatigue. A Visual Analogue Scale will be administered three times daily and every 15 minutes during game play to evaluate the evolution of fatigue symptoms and to identify which objective metrics of fatigue calculated from game-play data (e.g., decrease in speed over time) correlate with perceived fatigue severity and objective measures of NeuroCapacity.