12. May 2021
Lubos Brabenec, Patricia Klobusiakova, Patrik Simko, Milena Kostalova, and Jiri Mekyska, led by professor Irena Rektorova, found out that it is possible to improve speech problems in patients suffering from Parkinson's disease in the long term, by applying non-invasive brain stimulation using repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) technology. The neuroscientists from CEITEC Masaryk University (MU), together with engineers from the Brno University of Technology (BUT) have developed a special protocol with ten half-hour sessions with this type of stimulation, which allows the improvement of speech problems in patients with Parkinson's disease for up to several months. Their findings were published in the scientific journal Brain Stimulation.
"Speech problems occur often in patients with Parkinson's disease. The patients speak very quietly, have difficulties with pronunciation, and their speech is often monotonous, they often have problems with the pace and rhythm during speech. The commonly used treatment for Parkinson's disease is not very effective in fighting these symptoms, and special speech–language pathology is very time consuming and not widely available. We have demonstrated that speech problems in these patients are largely related to impaired activity of a particular part of the brain, which is responsible for auditory feedback," explains Irena Rektorova.
Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation – rTMS for short – is a non-invasive stimulation using a pulse magnetic field with the help of a head coil. This method, in which the brain is stimulated by a strong electromagnet, is currently used to treat depression, but for other diseases it is being used only experimentally. "Our research team was the first one to use this method to stimulate the part of the brain that is responsible for auditory feedback. Our research team was also the first to demonstrate that this method can have a long-term positive effect on speech problems in patients with Parkinson's disease," says the first author of the study Lubos Brabenec.
This research not only found a new and effective method that can be used to improve the speech of Parkinson's disease patients in the long run, but also helped scientists to better understand how rTMS affects brain functioning and how it changes the connections of various brain parts. "Thanks to our research, it will be possible to treat speech difficulties in the future with non-invasive brain stimulation. Patients with speech difficulties may have a reduced ability to communicate and thus to function on an everyday basis. Thanks to our discovery, we are able to improve the quality of their lives. Our results can be used in further research, where the effect of different types of non-invasive stimulation (including those performed in the home environment) can be tested, in combination with other therapeutic methods," adds Professor Irena Rektorova.
This research was supported by a grant from the Health Research Agency of the Ministry of Health of the Czech Republic and from the H2020-MSCA-RISE CoBeN (Novel Network-Based Approaches for Studying Cognitive Dysfunction in Behavioral Neurology) grant from the European Union.