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2020 Zenith Fellows Award Program (ZEN)

Modulation of Hippocampal Cicuitry with Focused Ultrasound in MCI

Can a new non-invasive approach stimulate brain activity and enhance memory in Mild Cognitive Impairment?

Susan Bookheimer, Ph.D.
University of California
Los Angeles, CA - United States


A brain region called the hippocampus is important for learning and memory. Hippocampus is one of the regions impacted in the early stages of Mild Cognitive Impairment or MCI (a condition with subtle memory loss that may precede dementia, including Alzheimer’s dementia) and Alzheimer’s. Studies suggest that applying a specific type of stimulation of the nerve cells may be a new means of directly targeting brain regions and benefiting cognitive function. However, current technologies are either highly invasive or only reach the surface of the brain and may not be as effective as possible. Dr. Susan Bookheimer and colleagues will test a new non-invasive technology to stimulate brain cells in the hippocampus.

Research Plan

Dr. Bookheimer’s team will be using ultrasound in an effort to stimulate and increase brain activity. This method known as the low intensity focused ultrasound pulsation (LIFUP) will be used by the researchers to enhance brain activity to evaluate if it impacts memory in individuals with amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment (a form of Mild Cognitive Impairment that primarily impacts memory).
The researchers plan to use LIFUP simultaneously along with brain scans to test whether LIFUP increases blood flow and nerve cell activity in the hippocampus. Dr. Bookheimer’s team will also study if this approach impacts other brain regions important for consolidating memories and whether it improves memory in individuals with MCI.


The study results may provide important insights into a how a non-invasive technique may be used to stimulate brain cell activity and evaluate if it impacts memory in ongoing clinical trials for MCI and ultimately Alzheimer’s. If successful, the study could potentially provide the foundation for larger and expanded clinical trials over those ongoing today.

Made possible through the generous funding from the Zenith Society, benefiting the Alzheimer’s Association.

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