Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

A new study in macaque monkeys has shed light on which parts of the brain support credit assignment processes (how the brain links outcomes with its decisions) and, for the first time, how low-intensity transcranial ultrasound stimulation (TUS) can modulate both brain activity and behaviours related to these decision-making and learning processes.

Illustration of a brain

While currently developed in an animal model, although in a brain area homologous to the one in humans, this line of research and the use of TUS could one day be applied to clinical research to tackle psychiatric conditions where maladaptive decisions are observed.

The study published in the journal Science Advances shows that credit assignment-related activity in this small lateral prefrontal area of the brain, which supports adaptive behaviours, can be safely, reversibly and quickly disrupted with TUS.

After stimulating this brain area, the animals in the study became more exploratory in their decisions. As a consequence of the ultrasound neuromodulation, behaviour was no longer guided by choice value – meaning that they could not understand that some choices would cause better outcomes – and decision-making was less adaptive in the task.

The study also showed that this process remained intact if another brain region (also part of the prefrontal cortex) was stimulated as control condition; showing for the first time how task-related brain modulation is specific to stimulation of specific areas that mediate a certain cognitive process.

The work was co-led by the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging at the University of Oxford, and co-authored by Radboud University, Netherlands; PSL Research University, Paris, France; Pôle Hospitalo-Universitaire, Paris, France; the University of Paris; and the University of Lyon, France.

Read the full story on the University of Oxford website. 

Similar stories

COVID-19 increased public trust in science, new survey shows

A survey of over 2000 British adults has found that public trust in science, particularly genetics, increased significantly during the pandemic. However, those with extremely negative attitudes towards science tend to have high self-belief in their own understanding despite low textbook knowledge.

Gero Miesenböck awarded 2023 Japan Prize

Congratulations to Professor Gero Miesenböck, Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics (DPAG), who has been awarded the 2023 Japan Prize in the field of Life Sciences, together with Professor Karl Deisseroth, for pioneering work in the field of optogenetics.

Major funding for Oxford will help find new cancer treatments

Cancer Research UK and the National Institute for Health and Care Research are investing over £3 million across the next five years into The University of Oxford’s Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC). The investment will enable Oxford to expand its portfolio of precision prevention and early detection cancer trials.

Daniel Freeman to join Department of Experimental Psychology as Professor of Psychology

The Department of Experimental Psychology are delighted to announce that Daniel Freeman has been appointed as their new Professor of Psychology, joining from the Department of Psychiatry.

New study reveals role of lymphatic system in bone healing

It was previously assumed that bones lacked lymphatic vessels, but new research from the MRC Human Immunology Unit at Oxford's MRC Weatherall Institute for Molecular Medicine not only locates them within bone tissue, but demonstrates their role in bone and blood cell regeneration and reveals changes associated with aging.

Vaccination shown to protect against pregnancy complications from COVID-19 Omicron variant

The global network led by the Oxford Maternal and Perinatal Health Institute (OMPHI) at the University of Oxford has today published, in The Lancet, the results of the ‘2022 INTERCOVID Study’ conducted in 41 hospitals across 18 countries.