Publications & Posters

Targeting hippocampal hyperactivity with real-time fMRI neurofeedback: protocol of a single-blind randomized controlled trial in mild cognitive impairment

BMC Psychiatry | February 9, 2021

Klink K, Jaun U, Federspiel A, Wunderlin M, Teunissen CE, Kiefer C, Wiest R, Scharnowski F, Sladky R, Haugg A, Hellrung L and Peter J

BMC Psychiatry. 2021;21:87




Several fMRI studies found hyperactivity in the hippocampus during pattern separation tasks in patients with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI; a prodromal stage of Alzheimer’s disease). This was associated with memory deficits, subsequent cognitive decline, and faster clinical progression. A reduction of hippocampal hyperactivity with an antiepileptic drug improved memory performance. Pharmacological interventions, however, entail the risk of side effects. An alternative approach may be real-time fMRI neurofeedback, during which individuals learn to control region-specific brain activity. In the current project we aim to test the potential of neurofeedback to reduce hippocampal hyperactivity and thereby improve memory performance.


In a single-blind parallel-group study, we will randomize n = 84 individuals (n = 42 patients with MCI, n = 42 healthy elderly volunteers) to one of two groups receiving feedback from either the hippocampus or a functionally independent region. Percent signal change of the hemodynamic response within the respective target region will be displayed to the participant with a thermometer icon. We hypothesize that only feedback from the hippocampus will decrease hippocampal hyperactivity during pattern separation and thereby improve memory performance.


Results of this study will reveal whether real-time fMRI neurofeedback is able to reduce hippocampal hyperactivity and thereby improve memory performance. In addition, the results of this study may identify predictors of successful neurofeedback as well as the most successful regulation strategies.