Ultrasonic Neuromodulation

Has anyone followed the recent advances in Ultrasound?

Low Frequency Low Intensity Pulsed Ultrasound can stimulate action potentials in nerve cells. It can pass through the human skull if pulsed at the right frequency. This has more potential than electromagnets or tdcs or even tms. Via some kind of phased array or triangulation it is possible to stimulate deep limbic circuits in the brain like the mesolimbic circuit or structures like the nucleus accumbens.

Here is the lab that is working on this:

their spin-off company is working on a prototype:

Here is an interesting article:

They've even published a protocol paper in the journal Nature.

Here's some interesting patents:

There is already an Israeli company using high power ultrasound to remove brain tumors, luckily *low intensity low frequency* ultrasound (LILFU) appears to be quite safe, potentially safer than prenatal ultrasound exams.


It should be a straightforward effort to construct some kind of stereotactic headset with maybe an ipod type of controller. Maybe use traditional matrix piezoelectric elements or the new CMUT fab process for the emitters. You could have an appointment like at TMS clinics for the initial calibration, then register and mark talairach atlas coordinates with the aid of fMRI. Any electrical engineers  or neurosci folks care to offer their input on this new technology?


  • Yeah, I've been following them.  I don't think we have enough information yet to say that it has "more potential" than other brain stimulation methods; it could very well be that tDCS or TMS are better-suited to certain problems.  The reason that it's safer than a prenatal ultrasound is because, according to the papers I've read, we're talking about intensities much, much lower than those used in prenatal ultrasound exams.

    Anyway, as you say, the construction of such a device should be pretty straightforward.
  • If this technique pans out, the possibility to selectively stimulate deep regions of the brain could lead to one interesting application : a non-invasive enhancement of the sense of smell (or hypersomia)

    This idea is based on a text by the neurologist Oliver Sacks, "The Dog beneath the Skin", where he recounts a personal experience when he was a 22-yo medical student. Trough a cocktail of drugs, he serendipitously acquired hypersomia during three weeks with the following abilities :
    - to identify much more odors than ordinary and more vividly
    - to recognize people by their smell even before seeing them
    - to associate basic emotions from others with specific odors

    Analyzing this experience, he concluded that it could have been due to the excitation of the uncus, a structure part of both the limbic and the rhinencephalon. One of its roles is to filter the signal received from the olfactory bulb, so its stimulation could lead to an sharp increase in smell sensitivity. Of course it will not give us the nose of a dog (we only have about 10 millions receptors against 10 times more for canines) but it should be a nice upgrade nonetheless...
  • I've seen DBS devices that use ultrasound, but it is kind of invasive. 

    The low intensity and low current thing is interesting. I've seen focused ultrasound break apart kidney stones, cause cavitation, and boil things. I wonder how long this can be used (even at low intensity) before it begins to overheat the brain? I've wanted a HIFU machine to play with for a long time but now I really want something that can do the lower intensity stuff too. Does anyone know if these can be modded to make a wide range of frequencies and intensities?
Sign In or Register to comment.