Transcranial focused ultrasound (tFUS) is a unique neurostimulation modality with potential to develop into a highly sophisticated and effective tool. Unlike any other noninvasive neurostimulation technique, tFUS has a high spatial resolution (on the order of millimeters) and can penetrate across the skull, deep into the brain. Sub-thermal tFUS has been shown to induce changes in EEG and fMRI, as well as perception and mood. This study investigates the possibility of using tFUS to modulate brain networks involved in attention and cognitive control.Three different brain areas linked to saliency, cognitive control, and emotion within the cingulo-opercular network were stimulated with tFUS while subjects performed behavioral paradigms. The first study targeted the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), which is associated with performance on cognitive attention tasks, conflict, error, and, emotion. Subjects performed a variant of the Erikson Flanker task in which emotional faces (fear, neutral or scrambled) were displayed in the background as distractors. tFUS significantly reduced the reaction time (RT) delay induced by faces; there were significant differences between tFUS and Sham groups in event related potentials (ERP), event related spectral perturbation (ERSP), conflict and error processing, and heart rate variability (HRV).
The second study used the same behavioral paradigm, but targeted tFUS to the right anterior insula/frontal operculum (aIns/fO). The aIns/fO is implicated in saliency, cognitive control, interoceptive awareness, autonomic function, and emotion. tFUS was found to significantly alter ERP, ERSP, conflict and error processing, and HRV responses.
The third study targeted tFUS to the right inferior frontal gyrus (rIFG), employing the Stop Signal task to study inhibition. tFUS affected ERPs and improved stopping speed. Using network modeling, causal evidence is presented for rIFG influence on subcortical nodes in stopping.
This work provides preliminarily evidence that tFUS can be used to modulate broader network function through a single node, affecting neurophysiological processing, physiologic responses, and behavioral performance. Additionally it can be used as a tool to elucidate network function. These studies suggest tFUS has the potential to affect cognitive function as a clinical tool, and perhaps even enhance wellbeing and expand conscious awareness.