Research at KU Leuven seeks to ‘determine factors that can enhance motor memory formation and consolidation’

In September 2017, the Brainbox team carried out the installation of two brand new pieces of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) equipment at KU Leuven, Belgium. A few months on from this installation, we spoke to Dr Geneviève Albuoy of the Sleep and Motor Memory Team at KU Leuven’s Movement Science Department about the work that is being carried out using this new equipment, and how the installation process went.

The Department of Movement Sciences at KU Leuven dedicates its research, primarily, to two distinct areas. Their research into Health & Wellbeing explores the optimisation of health and wellbeing in society through motor and physical activities, while their Sports & Performance research is concerned with improving performance in sport, motor, and physical activities.

The equipment installed by Brainbox, a DuoMAG XT rTMS System and Brainsight TMS Navigation, will primarily be used by PhD students and postdoctoral researchers within the Movement Science Department, Geneviève tells us, but will also be available to all members of the ‘BrainsHub’: a multimodal facility for human brain imaging and neurostimulation to describe, understand, and improve motor performance under normal and disordered conditions.

‘The general aim of our research’, Geneviève says, ‘is to determine, using neuroimaging techniques’, such as MRI and EEG, ‘factors that can enhance motor memory formation and consolidation’, examining the processes by which memories are strengthened. ‘Specifically, we [will] investigate the effects of experimental interventions including [non-invasive brain stimulation] NIBS’. The brain stimulation sessions will be ‘applied offline before learning, but also during post-learning consolidation episodes on motor memory formation and retention’. 

The ultimate goal of this branch of research at KU Leuven seeks to ‘develop tools to not only optimise memory in young adults, but to alleviate memory deficits observed during physiological ageing’. With the knowledge gained from this research, Geneviève hopes that there may be come ‘great applications for promoting healthy ageing and, ultimately, developing new neurorehabilitative approaches for the recovery of motor functions after brain injuries or neurodegeneration’.

Research into this topic has already begun at KU Leuven, with Geneviève telling us that ‘in the first set of studies we started with the equipment [. . .] we used an innovative and comprehensive multimodal approach in order to investigate whether NIBS can be used to modulate the interaction between motor memory-relevant brain networks. Specifically, we currently use neuronavigated TMS, tailored to each individual, in combination with pre- and post-stimulation measures of resting-state and task-related magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy, in order to capture the underlying NIBS effects on neural activity, functional connectivity and concentration of relevant neurometabolites in memory-related networks’.

Geneviève has been working with Brainbox’s products for a number of years now, having first discovered our equipment while carrying out her postdoctoral research at the Functional Neuroimaging Unit at the University of Montreal, Canada, ‘while performing a cerebellar TMS study in collaboration with colleagues from Paris. [The] stimulation [for this research] was neuronavigated with the Brainsight system’. Since the installation of Geneviève’s new equipment, we have worked closely with one another to ensure ongoing support, assistance, and advice to assist with the research undertaken at KU Leuven. ‘We have been very pleased with the quality of the service provided before, during, and since the installation’, Geneviève said, ‘we always appreciate the efforts made by the Brainbox team to continuously consider potential developments suggested by the users’.

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