Weekly Neuroscience Update


Credit: BruceBlaus

Scientists have discovered a new genetic syndrome of obesity, over-eating, mental and behavioural problems in six families, from across the world. The study represents an important step in our understanding of how the hypothalamus and oxytocin control appetite and behaviour. 

A new study published in Biological Psychiatry suggests that a brain reward centre, the striatum, may be directly affected by inflammation and that striatal change is related to the emergence of illness behaviors.

By studying stroke patients who have lost the ability to spell, researchers have pinpointed the parts of the brain that control how we write words.

A study has shown for the first time that the structure of the brain circuitry known as the corticolimbic system is more likely to be passed down from mothers to daughters than from mothers to sons or from fathers to children of either gender. The corticolimbic system governs emotional regulation and processing and plays a role in mood disorders, including depression.

New research proves that suffering repeated traumatic experiences throughout infancy and adolescence multiplies by 7 the risk of suffering psychosis during adulthood.

Researchers are using a mathematical tool to help determine which concussion patients will go on to suffer migraine headaches, according to a new study published online in the journal Radiology.

Some of the earliest nerve cells to develop in the womb shape brain circuits that process sights and sounds, but then give way to mature networks that convert this sensory information into thoughts. This is the finding of a study led by researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center and published in the February 3 edition of Neuron.

Scientists have demonstrated for the first time that it is possible to specifically modify gene expression in diseased upper motor neurons, brain cells that break down in ALS.

New research indicates that the location of receptors that transmit pain signals IS important in how big or small a pain signal will be and how effectively drugs can block those signals.

A new way of using MRI scanners to look for evidence of multiple sclerosis in the brain has been successfully tested by researchers.

A team of European researchers has found evidence that suggests that human consciousness is a state where the neural network that makes up the brain operates at an optimal degree of connectedness. In their paper published in Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the team describes their study of the human brain using volunteers undergoing fMRI scans while succumbing to the effects of an anesthetic that caused them to lose consciousness, and what was revealed in reviewing the scan data.

Researchers have determined that testing a portion of a person’s submandibular gland may be a way to diagnose early Parkinson’s disease.

Finally this week, researchers of a new study published in the current issue of Biological Psychiatry report successful reduction of depressive symptoms in patients using a novel non-invasive method of vagus nerve stimulation, or VNS.

Weekly Neuroscience Update


Red regions indicate reduced fractional anisotropy values in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Credit: The researchers/King’s College London.

Research at King’s College London has revealed subtle brain differences in adult males with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which may go some way towards explaining why symptoms persist into adulthood in some people with the disorder.

Women who take estrogen supplements from before or at the start of menopause and continue with them for a few years have better preserved brain structure, which may reduce the risk of dementia.

Scientists have taken a significant step toward understanding the cause of schizophrenia, in a landmark study that provides the first rigorously tested insight into the biology behind any common psychiatric disorder.

Stopping disruptions in cellular “trash removal” brought on by errors in molecular marks on DNA may guard against neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.

Roughly twenty years before the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease appear, inflammatory changes in the brain can be seen, according to a new study from Karolinska Institutet published in the medical scientific journal Brain.

In a new study, researchers reveal how brain scans could be used to identify children at high risk for later-life depression – information that could pave the way for early intervention and prevention.

Researchers have shown that graphene can be used to make electrodes that can be implanted in the brain, which could potentially be used to restore sensory functions for amputee or paralysed patients, or for individuals with motor disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

A new study has linked stress and anxiety to the same neurocircuitry in the brain as depression and dementia.

Different regions of our brain need to work simultaneously in order for us to process emotion. But according to new research, such regions are disconnected among individuals who experience multiple episodes of major depression.

A team of international researchers have announced the discovery of a system in the brain that may underlie the development of involuntary vocalizations (commonly called vocal tics) that often occur in people with Tourette syndrome.

A new study sheds light on multiple sclerosis (MS), specifically damage in the brain caused by the disease that may explain the slow and continuous cognitive decline that many patients experience. The findings, which appear in the Journal of Neuroscience, show that the brain’s immune system is responsible for disrupting communication between nerve cells, even in parts of the brain that are not normally considered to be primary targets of the disease.

Cognitive function and health appear to be genetically linked, according to research published in Molecular Psychiatry. The study was carried out by an international team from the US, the UK and Germany.

Researchers have discovered the mechanics of how dopamine transports into and out of brain cells, a finding that could someday lead to more effective treatment of drug addictions and neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

The brains of children who are obese function differently from those of children of healthy weight, and exhibit an “imbalance” between food-seeking and food-avoiding behaviors, researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center have found.

Finally this week, neuroscientists have now shown that rhythmic brain waves, called theta oscillations, engage and synchronize the brain regions that support the integration of memories. The results were published in the journal Current Biology.

How Your Brain Ages (Infographic)

How Your Brain Ages Infographic

Image via: How Your Brain Ages Infographic

Weekly Neuroscience Update


Salk scientists computationally reconstructed brain tissue in the hippocampus to study the sizes of connections (synapses). The larger the synapse, the more likely the neuron will send a signal to a neighboring neuron. The team found that there are actually 26 discrete sizes that can change over a span of a few minutes, meaning that the brain has a far great capacity at storing information than previously thought. Pictured here is a synapse between an axon (green) and dendrite (yellow). Credit: Salk Institute.

Scientists have achieved critical insight into the size of neural connections, putting the memory capacity of the brain far higher than common estimates. The new work also answers a longstanding question as to how the brain is so energy efficient and could help engineers build computers that are incredibly powerful but also conserve energy.

A new brain imaging study may lead to a screen that could identify children at high risk of developing depression later in life.

Children born into poverty had an increased risk for neurological impairment before they were aged 7 years, according to recent research in The International Journal of Epidemiology.

Individuals who participated in high challenge activities like quilting and photography showed enhanced brain activity, according to a new Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience report.

People with early-stage dementia benefit when they are empowered to manage their own condition, a study has found.

Learning a second language is easier for some adults than others, and innate differences in how the various parts of the brain “talk” to one another may help explain why, according to a study published January 20 in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Nerve damage from neurodegenerative disease and spinal cord injury has largely been considered irreversible, but researchers now report progress in the effort to synthesize rare natural products that promote regeneration and growth of injured nerve cells.

Columbia neuroscientists have developed new tools to safely trace brain circuits.

Finally this week, a new study finds that a sugar habit leaves a lasting imprint on certain brain circuits, making it incredibly difficult to stop eating sweet food. These marks, in turn, prime us to give into our cravings.



Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s (Video)

Greg O’Brien is the author of On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s. It is the first book written by an investigative reporter embedded inside the mind of Alzheimer’s chronicling the progression of his own disease. On Pluto has won several international book awards, and has been the subject of numerous television, radio, newspaper and magazine stories.

Oliver Sacks on Music and the Brain

Neurologist Oliver Sacks discusses his book “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain,” arguing that music is essential to being human in ways that have only begun to be understood

Weekly Neuroscience Update



A new study presented in the journal Nature could change the view of the role of motor neurons. Motor neurons, which extend from the spinal cord to muscles and other organs, have always been considered passive recipients of signals from interneuronal circuits. Now, however, researchers from Sweden´s Karolinska Institutet have demonstrated a new, direct signalling pathway through which motor neurons influence the locomotor circuits that generate rhythmic movements.

Neuroimaging studies suggest that frontolimbic regions of the brain, structures that regulate emotions, play an important role in the biology of aggressive behaviour.

A team of researchers has discovered that differences in the types of memories we have influence the nature of our future encounters. Their findings show how distinct parts of the brain, underlying different kinds of memories, also influence our attention in new situations.

A gene involved in the regulation of emotions and behaviour could influence the long-term impact of violence experienced in childhood on antisocial behaviour.

Nerve cells have to react extremely quickly, but depending on the task they are supposed to perform they often need to work more slowly. Berlin scientists have now shown that a receptor in the synapse can adapt to follow both regimes. It’s another example of the amazing flexibility of the brain, manifested at the molecular level.

A new treatment aimed at clearing abnormal clumps of protein called tau tangles from the brain in Alzheimer’s disease is entering an early-stage clinical trial in the UK.

Scientists have identified a cerebral marker specific to autism that can be detected by MRI and is present as from the age of two years. The abnormality thus detected consists in a less deep fold in Broca’s area, a region of the brain specialized in language and communication, functions that are impaired in autistic patients. This discovery may assist in the earlier diagnosis and management of these patients.

A research initiative exploring the utility of genetic information in the clinical setting has published a study and identified six noteworthy genes that affect human sleep duration.

Individuals addicted to cocaine may have difficulty in controlling their addiction because of a previously-unknown ‘back door’ into the brain, circumventing their self-control, suggests a new study led by the University of Cambridge.

A simple, computer-training task can change the brain’s wiring to regulate emotional reactions, according to a recent study published in NeuroImage.

The workings of neural circuits associated with creativity are significantly altered when artists are actively attempting to express emotions, according to a new brain-scanning study of jazz pianists.

Finally this week, a new study has found that blocking a receptor in the brain responsible for regulating immune cells could protect against the memory and behaviour changes seen in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.



What Made David Bowie So Creative?

David Bowie died this week from liver cancer. He was sixty-nine years old.

Creative genius

David was a singer, songwriter, record producer, painter and actor. He was a key figure in popular music for over five decades, and was considered by critics and other musicians as a ground-breaking innovator, particularly for his work in the 1970s. During his career, he sold an estimated 140 million records worldwide and was awarded platinum, gold and silver album certifications. Although he stopped concert touring after 2004 he remained musically active until his death. If there were a phrase to encapsulate David’s creative genius it would be the following: dare greatly, keep learning and don’t conform.

Memories full of sound. Beautiful sound.

One only needed to watch David perform on stage to see his brain effortlessly convert his concepts and ideas into the mesmerizingly creative instrumental, vocal and visual performances that transfixed a generation. His impact was enormous; he changed the nature of rock music, and changed his own approach repeatedly while staying true to his creative roots.

What makes us creative?

This question can be answered in the context that every single human being is unique because we each poses a uniquely complex brain, so complex that in all of human history no two human brains can be identical. This is because the unique combination of about 100 trillion tiny brain connections that grow and change throughout life is an ongoing work in progress from conception to death. In this way we each one of us ‘evolve’ as true individuals as we each make our journey through life.

Neurodiversity is the key to our success

The term neurodiversity has been coined to extend the finding that every single human being is neurologically unique due to infinite variations in human brain wiring. These differences in brain wiring are authentic forms of communication, self- expression and being. The ongoing gender revolution is simply recognition of the fact that human beings cannot be defined by sexual orientation alone. We are each one us, too unique to be pigeon-holed by ideology be it cultural, political or religious.David Bowie epitomized this view in this life and music.

Unique solutions, innovations and insights

What we actually need are the support-systems to allow each one of us to live our lives as we are, rather than insisting that we all conform to some clinical ideal. This is important because it is this very diversity that provides unique solutions, innovations and insights by viewing the world in a different way. Part of our fascination with David Bowie was that we were watching his unique creativity grow, develop and change in real-time over his life time.

Keep learning and don’t conform

David led a rich and varied life which epitomised the principle; keep learning and don’t conform. In this regard, he was interested in the unusual and unexplored and his music brought an enlightened understanding to many. His musical legacy including twenty six albums provides some consolation following his death and it will be cherished for many years to come.

Dare greatly. There is no other option

The evolution of the human race is not going to proceed by trying to transcend it, rather we will move forward as a race by making room for each and every individual to express their personalities to the full. In this way the evolution of the human race has everything to do with our own personal development.

In short, personality equals evolution

I look forward to developing this theme in greater detail in future posts. In the meantime, my deepest sympathy goes to the David’s loved ones at this difficult time.

Brain Networking Among Musicians

When musicians play, what is happening inside their brains? Scientists at Berlin’s Max Planck Institute for Human Development have discovered that while performing together, their neurological activity goes into a kind of synchronization mode – almost as though they were connected by a wireless network.

The Nature of Depression

This  short video examines the symptoms and treatments of depression, and gives some tips for how you might help a friend who is suffering.


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