New York University Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Navigation Skip to Sub Navigation

Early Intervention Helps in Addressing Brain Abnormalities

January 3, 2013

Preemptive cognitive training—an early intervention to address neuropsychiatric deficiencies—can help the brain function normally later in life, a team of researchers has found. Their findings, which appeared in a recent issue of the journal Neuron, hold promise for addressing a range of brain impairments in humans, including schizophrenia.

The study was conducted by researchers at NYU’s Center for Neural Science, State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center, NYU Langone Medical Center, and the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research.

Researchers have aimed to address human neuropsychiatric impairments, such as schizophrenia, through mental training—for example, executive function exercises that teach patients to focus their attention and selectively recall important information. Historically, these methods, collectively titled cognitive remediation, have been of limited value because they have been applied to patients whose conditions are too advanced to address.

However, early intervention, in principle, is a viable approach to treatment. This is because our brains continue to develop until the age of about 20, and because experience can have the powerful effect of tuning neural circuits. 

“This means you have a window to intervene prior to a neural system manifesting functional abnormality and becoming unchangeable,” explains André Fenton, a professor at the Center for Neural Science, associate professor at SUNY Downstate, and one of the study’s co-authors.

But a question that has vexed researchers is what kind of training can yield dividends? This matter was the focus of the Neuron study.

Through a series of experiments, the researchers examined the behavior and brain physiology of rats with normally functioning brains and those whose brains had been impaired by lesions, which model the effects of schizophrenia. Not only did preemptive training in adolescent rats prevent adult deficits in cognitive control, but when researchers investigated electrical brain function they observed that preemptive cognitive training had also corrected how the damaged brain was operating. The findings indicate that the early cognitive intervention also allowed the brain to function normally during the cognitive challenge, despite the enduring brain damage. 

“Our findings show that if you focus the young brain on gaining a certain kind of experience, then we can train it to solve certain types of problems that will confront the adult brain,” explains Fenton. “But this must be done at a time when the brain is flexible.”

The study’s other co-authors included Dino Dvorak of SUNY Downstate Medical Center and the Polytechnic Institute of NYU, and Helen Scharfman of NYU Langone Medical Center

The study was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, part of the National Institutes of Health


Type: Article

Early Intervention Helps in Addressing Brain Abnormalities

Search News



NYU In the News

Entrepreneurship Lab Opens at NYU

Crain’s New York Business covered the opening of the Mark and Debra Leslie Entrepreneurial eLab, which will be the headquarters for NYU’s Entrepreneurial Institute and all of the University’s programs aimed at promoting innovation and startups.

A Globalizer for N.Y.U. in Abu Dhabi

The New York Times profiled Bill Bragin who will become the first executive artistic director of NYU Abu Dhabi’s new performing arts center.

Think Tank to Ponder a Future for Ballet

The New York Times profiled Jennifer Homans, the director of NYU’s new Center for Ballet and the Arts.

The Brilliant Ten: Jonathan Viventi Builds Devices That Decode Thoughts

Popular Science named Assistant Bioengineering Professor Jonathan Viventi as one of its “brilliant ten” for his research into brain implants that could one day halt epileptic episodes:

Living and Leaving the Dream: Adrian Cardenas’ Journey from the Major Leagues to College

The New York Times ran a feature on Adrian Cardenas, a former major league baseball player who is now studying philosophy and creating writing at NYU.

NYU Footer