Advancing Transcranial Focused Ultrasound for Noninvasive Neuromodulation of Human Cortex

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Virginia Tech

Ultrasound waves are mechanical undulations above the threshold for human hearing, and have been used widely in both the human body and brain for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. Ultrasound can be controlled using specially designed transducers into a focus of a few millimeters in diameter. Low intensity ultrasound, such as used in imaging applications, appears to be safe in adults. It is also known that ultrasound waves can penetrate through the skull and be focused within the brain for ablation purposes, employing the heat generation properties of high intensity focused ultrasound. High intensity focused ultrasound is thus used to irreversibly ablate brain tissue in localized areas without observable damage to intermediate tissue and vasculature. Ablation with high intensity focused ultrasound guided by magnetic resonance imaging is used for abolishing brain tumors, and experimentally for pain.

Low intensity ultrasound can be utilized beyond imaging in neuroscience and neurology by focusing the ultrasound beam to investigate the structure and function of discrete brain circuits. In contrast to high intensity focused ultrasound, the effects of low intensity focused ultrasound on neurons are reversible. Considering the volume of work on high intensity focused ultrasound, low intensity focused ultrasound remains decidedly underdeveloped. Given the great potential for impact of low intensity focused ultrasound in both clinical and scientific neuromodulation applications, we sought to advance the use of low intensity focused ultrasound for noninvasive, transcranial neuromodulation of human cortex.

This dissertation contains novel research on the use of low intensity transcranial focused ultrasound for noninvasive neuromodulation of human cortex. The importance of mechanical forces in the nervous system is highlighted throughout to expand beyond the stigma that nervous function is governed chiefly by electrical and chemical means. Methods of transcranial focused ultrasound are applied to significantly modulate human cortical function, shown using electroencephalographic recordings and behavioral investigations of sensory discrimination performance. This dissertation also describes computational models used to investigate the insertion behavior of ultrasound across various tissues in the context of transcranial neuromodulation, as ultrasound's application for neuromodulation is relatively new and crudely understood. These investigations are critical for the refinement of device design and the overall advancement of ultrasound methods for noninvasive neuromodulation.

Ultrasound, transcranial, modulation, noninvasive, evoked potential, oscillation, phase, neuron, membrane, mechanical wave, electro-mechanical