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Education Science

Magnetic Brain Stimulation Makes Learning Easier 208

Posted by timothy
from the it-also-causes-love dept.
cylonlover writes "Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a technology that temporarily activates – or inactivates – parts of the brain using magnetic stimulation. Its ability to selectively turn areas of the brain on or off allows the functions and interconnections of the brain to by studied in a noninvasive and painless manner. Now researchers have shown that the technology can be used to enable rats to learn more easily. While smarter rats probably aren't high on anyone's wish list, the technology shows potential for allowing TMS to better treat a variety of brain disorders and diseases in humans, such as severe depression and schizophrenia."
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Magnetic Brain Stimulation Makes Learning Easier

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  • I know what it means in the medical sense, but still - directly manipulating my brain is not what I would term "non-invasive..."
    • by CODiNE (27417)

      Terminology certainly is relative.
      As in Zoolander...

      "The FILES are INSIDE the computer!"

      • by Cryacin (657549)
        Oooohhhhh Jimmy Cracked corn and I don't care, Jimmy Cracked corn and I don't care, cause the master's gone away!
    • It is just a little bitty Brain EMP. What could possibly go wrong?

      How long before we have cartoon style helmets that radically increase cognitive abilities? Want!

      I would suggest we develop a protocol to stimulate the pleasure centers and lower inhibitions, but ethanol seems to work okay for now.

  • Yes, the researchers are not jabbing a needle into your skull, but that doesn't mean TFA should refer to the process as "noninvasive." This method of studying the brain is as "noninvasive" as an electron's position and momentum may be simultaneously known.

  • Sooo... (Score:5, Funny)

    by dmomo (256005) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @02:13AM (#35077368) Homepage

    Can I just wear a hat with magnets in it? Or would that kind of be like stabbing yourself in the face and calling it acupuncture?

    • by Thing 1 (178996)
      That's a great way to start the morning! Stab yourself in the face and, chances are, that will be the worst pain you experience that day -- so the day can only improve!
    • by sorak (246725)

      Can I just wear a hat with magnets in it? Or would that kind of be like stabbing yourself in the face and calling it acupuncture?

      I suspect that some kind of homeopathic learning helmet will soon hit the market, pointing to this study as proof that "magnets make smart"

      • Please, please, I'm begging you, don't give those quacks any MORE stupid ideas. It's bad enough when you ask them why people who are subject to MRIs aren't the picture of health yet a bracelet can somehow cure your ills that they expel nonsense about this, that or other thing which has no bearing on reality.

        We don't need to see these devices popping up at $29.99 a pop and having people wander around with what is effectively a colander on their heads.

        • by Nursie (632944)

          "We don't need to see these devices popping up at $29.99 a pop and having people wander around with what is effectively a colander on their heads."

          We don't?

          Really?

          I'm totally for this plan. In fact I think it would be awesome to see credulous morons wandering around with colanders on their heads all the time.

        • Hey I bought one. And I can run through mazes ten times faster now.
      • by dmomo (256005)

        Yeah, but if stimulate the entire brain, certainly you're just as likely to stimulate the "idiot" areas too. So, those magnetic hats we're gonna see? It's not that they don't work. THEY DO! It's just that they cancel themselves out. Or maybe it would be more of an idiot testing hat. Those with more "idiot" areas to stimulate will become even more moronic.

  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @02:30AM (#35077430)

    If somebody can find an xkcd about Pinky and the Brain, we can wrap this one right up.

  • ... I'd consider paying for the National Institute of Menthal Health to do those experiments.... :)

  • From the caption on the pretty picture in TFA:

    Brain slice of the frontal cortex of a rat showing nerve cells before and after treatment with the iTBS protocol

    When I read that, the very first thing I thought of was this ITBS [uiowa.edu], which pretty much just made learning more obnoxious.

  • by shadowofwind (1209890) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @02:46AM (#35077500)

    The body has evolved to reward beneficial behavior with feelings of pleasure, and to punish detrimental behavior with pain. Its an imperfect system, and it can go awry. But start mucking around with the feedback mechanism, bypassing it by stimulating the brain directly, and you can get into a lot of trouble. Similarly, other aspects of brain functionality tend to be as strong or weak as they are for reasons that have evolved over a long period of time. Almost anything that can be done to stimulate some aspect of brain function is at the expense of something else. The tradeoffs are many and poorly understood, and harmful effects aren't always very easy to detect externally. If it feels good enough, or produces compelling enough short term benefits, how does a person resist the temptation to do something that may have non-obvious long term penalties? By altering your brain function, your altering the one thing that is capable of warning you when you're going in a bad direction. In that regard its a highly unstable undertaking. A person can try to add a safeguard by handing the reins over to another person, like is done with prescriptions for therapeutic drugs. But that other person's judgment is almost unavoidably colored by their own self interest.

    Medical technology is great for stuff like repairing busted knees. But if a person adds up all the human carnage caused by devices aimed at helping or correcting brain function, I wonder how its stacks up against the benefits.

    Yes of course some people are going to explore this sort of thing anyway. I'm not in favor of banning it, and maybe I'm not even in favor of regulating it. But I still think its worth pause for thought.

    • Relevant to your argument: http://dresdencodak.com/2009/09/22/caveman-science-fiction/ [dresdencodak.com]

    • by hawkfish (8978)

      A person can try to add a safeguard by handing the reins over to another person, like is done with prescriptions for therapeutic drugs. But that other person's judgment is almost unavoidably colored by their own self interest.

      Indeed. [wikipedia.org]

    • http://www.drfuhrman.com/library/article16.aspx [drfuhrman.com]
      http://www.healthpromoting.com/article/breaking-free-dietary-pleasure-trap [healthpromoting.com]

      And also: "Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose"
      http://books.google.com/books?id=HQlg3rQquUoC [google.com]

      All to support your concern...

      Another aspect, that animals may turn to addictive-seeming behavior under stress:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat_Park [wikipedia.org]

      See also Larry Niven's fictional "Droud":
      http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/content.asp?B [technovelgy.com]

    • Not to oppose caution, but since I believe your attitude is older than science itself, In reply, I'm just going to quote another slashdotter's comment...

      "'you can't improve upon the performance of your brain and your body without longterm tradeoffs'

      i hate that kind of defeatist, "nature/god knows best" attitude. everything you have right now is thanks to people who believed they could do better than nature, and they did. yes, you shouldn't do lines of coke to be better at your job, because that is a
      • The essence of science is to form an idea, try it out, take an honest look at what the results are, and then modify accordingly. Nearly everything in life can be viewed that way, to me 'science' is almost synonymous with intelligence.

        I agree that the 'natural' status quo is a poor god. We are a part of nature, and using our intelligence to make nature better IS natural. But after we try something the next step is to look honestly at what follows and take it into account, or else we're not doing science.

      • by dudpixel (1429789)

        [snip] everything you have right now is thanks to people who believed they could do better than nature, and they did.

        hmmm, really? I'm not convinced - I'll need examples...

        Find me any of man's inventions that is in any way better than nature. Sure, we've made many things that assist us. But better? I disagree.

  • Research abstracts (Score:5, Informative)

    by FleaPlus (6935) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @02:48AM (#35077508) Journal

    It wasn't linked to in the article, so here's the actual abstracts for the two papers:

    http://www.jneurosci.org/cgi/content/abstract/31/4/1193 [jneurosci.org]
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1460-9568.2010.07425.x/abstract [wiley.com]

    Theta-Burst Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Alters Cortical Inhibition

    Human cortical excitability can be modified by repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), but the cellular mechanisms are largely unknown. Here, we show that the pattern of delivery of theta-burst stimulation (TBS) (continuous versus intermittent) differently modifies electric activity and protein expression in the rat neocortex. Intermittent TBS (iTBS), but not continuous TBS (cTBS), enhanced spontaneous neuronal firing and EEG gamma band power. Sensory evoked cortical inhibition increased only after iTBS, although both TBS protocols increased the first sensory response arising from the resting cortical state. Changes in the cortical expression of the calcium-binding proteins parvalbumin (PV) and calbindin D-28k (CB) indicate that changes in spontaneous and evoked cortical activity following rTMS are in part related to altered activity of inhibitory systems. By reducing PV expression in the fast-spiking interneurons, iTBS primarily affected the inhibitory control of pyramidal cell output activity, while cTBS, by reducing CB expression, more likely affected the dendritic integration of synaptic inputs controlled by other classes of inhibitory interneurons. Calretinin, the third major calcium-binding protein expressed by another class of interneurons was not affected at all. We conclude that different patterns of TBS modulate the activity of inhibitory cell classes differently, probably depending on the synaptic connectivity and the preferred discharge pattern of these inhibitory neurons.

    Continuous and intermittent transcranial magnetic theta burst stimulation modify tactile learning performance and cortical protein expression in the rat differently

    Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) can modulate cortical excitability in a stimulus-frequency-dependent manner. Two kinds of theta burst stimulation (TBS) [intermittent TBS (iTBS) and continuous TBS (cTBS)] modulate human cortical excitability differently, with iTBS increasing it and cTBS decreasing it. In rats, we recently showed that this is accompanied by changes in the cortical expression of proteins related to the activity of inhibitory neurons. Expression levels of the calcium-binding protein parvalbumin (PV) and of the 67-kDa isoform of glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD67) were strongly reduced following iTBS, but not cTBS, whereas both increased expression of the 65-kDa isoform of glutamic acid decarboxylase. In the present study, to investigate possible functional consequences, we applied iTBS and cTBS to rats learning a tactile discrimination task. Conscious rats received either verum or sham rTMS prior to the task. Finally, to investigate how rTMS and learning effects interact, protein expression was determined for cortical areas directly involved in the task and for those either not, or indirectly, involved. We found that iTBS, but not cTBS, improved learning and strongly reduced cortical PV and GAD67 expression. However, the combination of learning and iTBS prevented this effect in those cortical areas involved in the task, but not in unrelated areas. We conclude that the improved learning found following iTBS is a result of the interaction of two effects, possibly in a homeostatic manner: a general weakening of inhibition mediated by the fast-spiking interneurons, and re-established activity in those neurons specifically involved in the learning task, leading to enhanced contrast between learning-induced and background activity.

  • As an Iraq vet with it (mild case), who has friends who suffer a lot more, I hope this can offer some hope.
  • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @02:52AM (#35077518)

    Can we get the actual paper(s) linked to in the summary rather than just this "Scientists somewhere found something cool and that's about all we'll tell you" crap? Occasionally, I'm interested in details that are lacking. For anyone interested, Trippe et al 2011 J neurosci [nih.gov] and Mix et al Euro J neurosci [nih.gov] seem to be the articles they're talking about.

    Having said that, they're behind paywalls, and people understandably hate that too...

    I've seen a few papers like this one [nih.gov] that suggests magnetic fields cause new neurons to form in rats. The research here suggests it "modifies electric activity and protein expression in the rat neocortex." I don't see why the two would be mutually exclusive when it comes to learning in the short term, but I'd also be interested in what the longer term effects are. Skimming over the newer article, it only tracked the rats 7 days, the paper about neurogenesis seems to show effects after nine weeks.

    As I said, I only skimmed the articles, and I don't really have a clear understanding of the brain architecture, but it will be interesting if this treatment proves to have short and long term beneficial effects, or at least good short term effects and no bad effects from the increased neurons in the brain.

    If this turns out to be a "flowers for algernon" situation though, I've read that book, it's sad, and I want no part of it.

  • But seriously, how does this work?
  • by tsa (15680) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @02:55AM (#35077534) Homepage

    I can't believe that magnetic stimulation will have no side effects whatsoever, as they claim. I won't let anyone go near my head with such a thing until more is known about the influence and long-term effects of this technique, or I have no choice but to try it.

    • by skrimp (790524)
      You mean aside from that brick of an electromagnetic transmitter you put beside your head all the time?
    • by trawg (308495)

      My brother is a psychology PhD student - he's had TMI on a couple of occasions and has described it as a generally interesting experience. So far he's shown no ill effects other than a tendency to talk about it a lot.

  • I won't have anyone go near my head with a magnetic stimulator until I either have no other choice or more is known about long-term side effects.

  • Really, I am now learning German and at my age..what a pain in the butt. Would be great to pop on my magnet hat for my lessons.

    • by Thing 1 (178996)
      "I put on my robe and magnet hat..."
    • by Culture20 (968837)

      Really, I am now learning German and at my age..what a pain in the butt.

      I didn't know Dieter made any Learn German with Sprockets DVDs. I suppose the might not be popular due to the price.

  • Can we get the actual paper(s) linked to in the summary rather than just this "Scientists somewhere found something cool and that's about all we'll tell you" crap? Occasionally, I'm interested in details that are lacking. For anyone interested, Trippe et al 2011 J neurosci [nih.gov] and Mix et al Euro J neurosci [nih.gov] seem to be the articles they're talking about.

    Having said that, they're behind paywalls, and people understandably hate that too...

    I've seen a few papers like this one [nih.gov] that suggests magnetic fields cause ne

  • I see thousands upon thousands of magnetic "performance enhancing" headbands in the near future.

    • I see thousands upon thousands of magnetic "performance enhancing" headbands in the near future

      Why wait? The future is already here! The 8 Coil Shakti [shaktitechnology.com] headband can be yours for only $285!

      Or you can just tape some kitchen magnets to your head and probably get the same effect.

  • by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @03:13AM (#35077614)

    That I'd love to have something like this to help learn skills and languages faster and to remember things better.

    It's not quite the Matrix's "I know jujitsu.", but we're getting there. Baby steps.

  • The Iraq Vet Stress Project [stressproject.org] uses very precise & minute magnetic fields - those generated with fingertips - to help soldiers with PTSD. The procedure involves tapping on specific locations on the skin while thinking about a specific distressing thought or emotion. They don't know exactly why it works, just that it does.

    Leadership in the American Psychological Association is actively subverting continuing education credit for Energy Psychology for unknown reasons:

    "The APA’s criteria for appropriate

    • by Thing 1 (178996)
      Was going to say "That sounds a lot like EFT", clicked on the first link to read a little, and saw EFT near the top of the page. Great stuff, even if some of my friends think I'm crazy. (Yes, the two can be true. :) I first learned about Jin Shin Jyutsu, a similar energy healing modality. I don't practice as much as I'd like but every time I do I feel better. By the way, that agenda? It's financial. There's a lot less money in touching people and breathing deeply, than there is in selling destructive
    • by radtea (464814)

      The Iraq Vet Stress Project [stressproject.org] uses very precise & minute magnetic fields - those generated with fingertips - to help soldiers with PTSD. The procedure involves tapping on specific locations on the skin while thinking about a specific distressing thought or emotion. They don't know exactly why it works, just that it does.

      Here may be part of the problem. You start with a completely unjustified claim about "precise and minute magnetic fields" that is probably false, and end with a completely contradictory claim "they don't know exactly why it works". So on the one hand you are claiming a detailed knowledge of one aspect of the process, and on the other claiming a deep ignorance of it. That kind of thing sets off the bullshit detector in most people's minds pretty loudly. Tapping the skin is not precise, and while there ar

      • by Shotgun (30919)

        So on the one hand you are claiming a detailed knowledge of one aspect of the process, and on the other claiming a deep ignorance of it. That kind of thing sets off the bullshit detector in most people's minds pretty loudly.

        I so wish that were true.

      • by nido (102070)

        The human body has electrical signaling. When electric current flows through human nerve tissue, minute magnetic fields are generated. The fields are applied to specific locations in the body that correspond and connect to specific locations in the brain.

        In the EFT protocol, the first point that is tapped is on the eyebrow, or alternatively, on the bridge of the nose between the eyes. This is a point on the bladder meridian described by ancient chinese anatomists. The second point is on the side of the eye,

    • by ebuck (585470)

      They don't know exactly why it works, just that it does.

      Either they know why it works, or they are incredibly ignorant. It's called the Observer-expantacy effect, and it's the primary reason why the double-blind experimental procedure was developed. This isn't some obscure bit of Psychology, it's covered in the first intro to Psychology class in detail.

  • by zmollusc (763634)

    So sticking hard drive magnets on my tinfoil hat will be making my smartness more better? Horay!

  • Smarter rats are definitely on my wish list. With the possible exception of the tails, Rats are damn cool pets, especially if you can get ones the size of small dobermans.

    -=Geoskd
  • Sweet, new age is making a come back.

  • by Rollgunner (630808) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @03:34AM (#35077716)
    My wife has been using Transcranial Sonic Stimulation to temporarily deactivate my aural, pleasure, empathy and impulse control centers for years now.
  • by Dexter Herbivore (1322345) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @03:48AM (#35077774) Journal
    When I read that headline my immediate reaction was, "Uh oh... pseudo-science incoming". However this comes from a paper published in the Journal of Neuroscience [jneurosci.org] and the European Journal of Neuroscience [blackwellpublishing.com]. So perhaps we can enhance our brain through the (in a 1950's movie scientist voice) POWER OF MAGNETS!
  • Anyone ever read Vernor Vinge's "A Deepness In the Sky"? Sounds like "focus" :D
    • by lennier (44736)

      Anyone ever read Vernor Vinge's "A Deepness In the Sky"? Sounds like "focus" :D

      We have that mind-enslaving procedure already. It's called "Slashdot".

  • by captainpanic (1173915) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @04:01AM (#35077804)

    I knew it! They can deactivate my brain with magnets and stuff!
    *proudly wears tin foil hat*

    • I knew it! They can deactivate my brain with magnets and stuff! *proudly wears tin foil hat*

      Dude, tin foil isn't going to shield these magnetic fields! ;-)

    • I knew it! They can deactivate my brain with magnets and stuff! *proudly wears tin foil hat*

      Dude! You need to switch to mu-metal [wikipedia.org].

      (But keep the tinfoil as a lining for high frequency stuff.)

  • stupidity?
  • Any possibility of turning of.... hey do you want to go ride bikes?

  • In 2001, I was living with a friend briefly and slept on a bed with one of those magnetized mattress top things. I'm not sure if it was coincidence or not, but soon I began to dream quite vividly each night, often lucid, and my friend said it was the magnets.

    I did some brief research and found information about the effects of magnets on the brain, specially Melatonin (if I remember correctly). I'm not sure if this stuff was fact or fiction, but the claims seemed logical.

    • by Shotgun (30919)

      Was she hot?

      I know when I briefly live with a hot friend that I have very lucid dreams while sleeping in her bed. I don't think it has anything to do with the magnets.

      Wait a minute. This is /. I must have been dreaming.

    • by tabrnaker (741668)
      The interesting thing about logic is that very few people possess the ability to use it. The basic 'common sense' reaction is , magnets= nonsense.

      However, humans are collections of magnetic fields. So basically "common sense" is saying, "how dumb are you to believe that magnets affect magnet fields".

      It's kind of ironic that a large part of the culture that pursues physcial determinism seem to exclude themselves from said physical determinism. Which is just proof that the western viewpoint still lacks a c

  • "Pinky, are you pondering what I'm pondering?"
    "I think so Brain, but I can't be sure... That magnet has temporarily inactivated my pondering section."
  • by TaoPhoenix (980487) <TaoPhoenix@yahoo.com> on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @06:20AM (#35078234) Journal

    Diary entry:

    Algernon the Mouse writing. I don't feel so good any more. Miss Kinnian says she is worried.

  • by sjwt (161428)

    With out reading the more detailed description with the pictures, it looks more like a destructive treatment, though apparently its not.

    But thankfully the closing paragraph seems to indicate they aren't trying to describe this as a guaranteed new amazing treatment, but rather something that warrants future works.

  • What is really going on here? Might this magnetic stimulation be nothing more than a crude way to pump energy directly into the brain? Or dampen it? Same sort of idea behind why vibrations help surgery patients recover faster.

    I'm wondering how easy it is to cause damage with too much stimulation.

    Doubt it would do anything for Alzheimer's patients.

    • by tabrnaker (741668)
      Damage? You have heard of ECT right? You'd need way less energy levels for this application, even less than the energy they've used to knock out peoples visual centers. Basically they're gravitating towards, less energy, more specificity.

      As for Alzheimer's what's your basis? As far as i can tell it could possible help considering that a symptom of alzheimers is the deterioration of the matrix that suspends the neurons in the brain. Brain growth stimulates the strengthing and growth of the matrix. In f

  • ... Don't let Bender hear about this ...

  • A peer-reviewed publication [jneurosci.org] in The Journal of Neuroscience suggests that it is, in fact, science.

    Despite that, I have watched too much Star-Trek and know too little about neuroscience to be able to read about "cortical excitability" via "theta-burst stimulation" or about "enhanced spontaneous neuronal firing and EEG gamma band power" and not feel that I'm reading a sci-fi screenplay.

    • by tnk1 (899206)

      Exposure to electromagnetic energy of sufficient strength will definitely have some effect on your body, and just about anything else, so the sci-fi treatments certainly have a grounding in objective reality. The real story is not *what* is being used, but *how* it is being used.

      Where these scenes usually fail is that they talk about applying some sort of energy which then fixes an issue. However, energy is simply energy, and as we all know, the difference between a nuclear plant and a nuclear bomb is wha

      • by tabrnaker (741668)
        Simple experiment.

        A) Sleep on the floor of your house (hopefully you live in the city full of electricity and gadgets)

        B) Go camping and sleep on the ground far away from man-made magnetic fields

        C) Observe the difference.

        I have not met one person that hasn't been able to notice the difference.

  • ... could you turn off all of it? Put someone to sleep? Could it be used as an anasthetic.

  • by dtjohnson (102237) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @07:10AM (#35078420)
    Cell phones were shown many years ago to affect long-term memory in a classic study [uwnews.org] at the University of Washington. It might make sense to try and apply the magnetic fields selectively to accomplish some sort of positive learing result. Hopefully, this won't turn out to another one of those enthusiastically-received procedures like lobotomies [psychosurgery.org] or electroshock [wikipedia.org] that end up hurting more than helping.
    • by Shotgun (30919)

      They affect extremely short term memory around here. It seems all the females forget that they're driving when they bring the phones close to their heads.

  • Does this mean some of those crazy looking pieces of headgear in SkyMall may actually work? If so they should market it as "able to remove all other memories of SkyMall with less pain than a corkscrew lobotomy."
  • "the technology shows potential for allowing TMS to better treat a variety of brain disorders and diseases in humans, such as severe depression and schizophrenia and religion."

  • This looks like The Fourth "R" by George O. Smith.

    http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/18602 [gutenberg.org]

  • I used TMS to speed up the first posting part of my brain

  • Thanks to TMS stimulation!

  • TMS / TCMS has also shown promise in the treatment of migraine [ http://www.thelancet.com/journals/laneur/article/PIIS1474-4422(10)70054-5/abstract [thelancet.com] ] and a simple handheld device has been tested [ http://www.science20.com/news_releases/transcranial_magnetic_stimulator_claims_to_zap_away_migraines [science20.com] ] with positive results. The magnetic fields involved are much more intense than environmental magnetism, but the sensitivity of the brain to these effects raises questions about prolonged exposure to electromagne
  • Will the fancy magnetic brainwashing machine have a spinning psychedelic disc?

    Brainwashing has been so out of fashion for too long. It used to be a staple in the cheezy movie diet, but I thought we had eaten into extinction..

  • Its so they can remember all that stuff!

  • I just can't see non-institutionalized schizophrenics going for a treatment that requires them to 'let the authorities send signals to their brain'. Really.
  • can I build one now? if it can stimulate some areas of the brain, then I want one that can stimulate the pleasure receptors...
  • by hey! (33014) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @01:45PM (#35081904) Homepage Journal

    You could get some exercise. There is simply no other thing you can do for brain health and performance that has anything close to the volume of research support that exercise has. Recently I was reading in Science News about how rats given a test requiring them to remember subtle differences performed significantly better when they had an exercise wheel in their cage.

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