Weekly Neuroscience Update

Reductions in cortical surface area and increases in cortical thickness in Down syndrome relative to typical controls. Panel A shows that the cortex surface area is lower in Down syndrome; panel B shows that the cortex is thicker in Down syndrome brains. Small red circles indicate the approximate locations where cortical surface area and thickness were most different between brains of participants with Down syndrome and brains of typically developing participants. Image credit: Lee et al., National Institute of Mental Health

Reductions in cortical surface area and increases in cortical thickness in Down syndrome relative to typical controls. Panel A shows that the cortex surface area is lower in Down syndrome; panel B shows that the cortex is thicker in Down syndrome brains. Small red circles indicate the approximate locations where cortical surface area and thickness were most different between brains of participants with Down syndrome and brains of typically developing participants. Image credit: Lee et al., National Institute of Mental Health

The thickness of the brain’s cerebral cortex could be a key to unlocking answers about intellectual development in youth with Down Syndrome. It could also provide new insights to why individuals with this genetic neurodevelopmental disorder are highly susceptible to early onset Alzheimer’s Disease later in life.

In a study published in The Journal of Experimental Medicine, researchers report a surprising finding that challenges current anatomy and histology textbook knowledge: Lymphatic vessels are found in the central nervous system where they were not known to exist.

Changes in the vaginal microbiome are associated with effects on offspring gut microbiota and on the developing brain, according to a new study published in Endocrinology, a journal of the Endocrine Society.

Researchers discover that a protein called Taranis could hold the key to a good night’s sleep.

A team of researchers has now been able to demonstrate in a study that the bonding hormone oxytocin inhibits the fear center in the brain and allows fear stimuli to subside more easily. This basic research could also usher in a new era in the treatment of anxiety disorders.

Early life stress affects cognitive functioning in low-income children.

Researchers at Monash University have found physical differences in the brains of people who respond emotionally to others’ feelings, compared to those who respond more rationally, in a study published in the journal NeuroImage.

Having a stroke ages a person’s brain function by almost eight years, new research finds — robbing them of memory and thinking speed as measured on cognitive tests. In another pilot study, women who experience more hot flashes, particularly while sleeping, during the menopause transition are more likely to have brain changes reflecting a higher risk for cerebrovascular disease, such as stroke and other brain blood flow problems.

Researchers discover the anatomic reasons for the persistence of musical memory in Alzheimer patients.

A new study on successful ageing has linked better memory performance in older age with patterns of neural compensation. The research sheds light on how memory can remain efficient in spite of common age-related neural decline.

There are more boys than girls diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Now, a study shows that behaviors relevant to autism are more frequently observed in boys than in girls, whether they’re at risk of autism or not. Meanwhile an early intervention program for toddlers with autism spectrum disorder improves their intellectual abilities and reduces autism symptoms – and those results persist years after the children originally received treatment, according to a recent study. And in another study, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, a team of  researchers has shown for the first time that children with autism spectrum disorder who are overly sensitive to sensory stimuli have brains that react differently than those with the disorder who don’t respond so severely to noises, visual stimulation and physical contact.

The stress hormone cortisol strengthens memories of scary experiences. 

Finally, this week, researchers have found that people who speak more than one language have twice as much brain damage as unilingual people before they exhibit symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s the first physical evidence that bilingualism delays the onset of the disease.

 


How Social Media is Rewiring Your Brain [INFOGRAPHIC]

social brain


Weekly Neuroscience Update

Brain cell density remains constant with age among cognitively normal adults. (Courtesy of Dr. Keith Thulborn)

Brain cell density remains constant with age among cognitively normal adults. (Courtesy of Dr. Keith Thulborn)

New, ultra-high-field magnetic resonance images (MRI) of the brain provide the most detailed images to date to show that while the brain shrinks with age, brain cell density remains constant.

In a stunning discovery that overturns decades of textbook teaching, researchers have determined that the brain is directly connected to the immune system by vessels previously thought not to exist. That such vessels could have escaped detection when the lymphatic system has been so thoroughly mapped throughout the body is surprising on its own, but the true significance of the discovery lies in the effects it could have on the study and treatment of neurological diseases ranging from autism to Alzheimer’s disease to multiple sclerosis.

A new MRI study has found distinct injury patterns in the brains of people with concussion-related depression and anxiety, according to a new study published online in the journal Radiology.

Children and adolescents who received deep brain stimulation for generalized dystonia maintained significant symptom relief for up to eight years, according to a study presented at the 12th World Congress of the International Neuromodulation Society.

An international team of researchers is using data mapping methods created to track the spread of information on social networks to trace its dissemination across a surprisingly different system: the human brain.

A previously unknown link between the immune system and the death of motor neurons in Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, has been discovered. The finding paves the way to a whole new approach for finding a drug that can cure or at least slow the progression of such neurodegenerative diseases as ALS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases.

Spoken sentences can be reconstructed from activity patterns of human brain surface. “Brain to Text” combines knowledge from neuroscience, medicine and informatics.

Finally this week, scientists have figured out how newly learned concepts form in the human brain by visualizing how new information gets filed. They say this is the first time science visually witnessed how and where specific objects are coded in the brain.

 


Could your brain repair itself?

Imagine the brain could reboot, updating its damaged cells with new, improved units. That may sound like science fiction — but it’s a potential reality scientists are investigating right now. Ralitsa Petrova details the science behind neurogenesis and explains how we might harness it to reverse diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.


Inside The Learning Brain

What happens in my brain when I’m learning? What stops my brain from learning? These questions answered in this short animated video.


Weekly Neuroscience Update

This image shows an overview of the Rehabilitation Gaming System. Image credit: Rehabilitation Gaming System.

This image shows an overview of the Rehabilitation Gaming System. Image credit: Rehabilitation Gaming System.

Using virtual reality to increase a patient’s confidence in using their paralyzed arm may be critical for recovery, according to research published in the open-access Journal of  NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation.

A pioneering study conducted by leading researchers at the University of Sheffield has revealed blood types play a role in the development of the nervous system and may cause a higher risk of developing cognitive decline. The findings  seem to indicate that people who have an ‘O’ blood type are more protected against the diseases in which volumetric reduction is seen in temporal and mediotemporal regions of the brain like with Alzheimer’s disease for instance.

A star-shaped brain cell called an astrocyte appears to help keep blood pressure and blood flow inside the brain on a healthy, even keel, scientists report.

Thanks to advances in brain imaging technology, we now know how specific concrete objects are coded in the brain, to the point where we can identify which object, such as a house or a banana, someone is thinking about from its brain activation signature.

A new study finds some people can be trained to learn absolute pitch.

Scientists have discovered a previously unknown link between the brain and the immune system that could help explain links between poor physical health and brain disorders including Alzheimer’s and depression.

A team of neuroscientists has determined how a pair of growth factor molecules contributes to long-term memory formation, a finding that appears in the journal Neuron.

Our understanding of how a key part of the human brain works may be wrong. That’s the conclusion of a team at Oxford University’s Centre for Human Brain Activity (OHBA), published in journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences. Until now, it was thought that working memory – the way in which we deal with and respond to immediate demands – was underpinned by stable brain patterns. The OHBA team discovered that instead, the areas of the brain responsible for working memory are changing all the time.

A new study finds people with higher levels of moral reasoning have greater gray matter volume in brain regions linked to social behaviour, decision-making and conflict processing, compared with those who have lower levels of moral reasoning.

Genes linked to creativity could increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to new research.

One of the major challenges of cocaine addiction is the high rate of relapse after periods of withdrawal and abstinence. But new research reveals that changes in our DNA during drug withdrawal may offer promising ways of developing more effective treatments for addiction.

According to a piece of research by the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country, the capacity to recall specific facts deteriorates with age, but other types of memory do not.

Finally, this week, a new study has found that the brain shrinks over the course of the day, ending up smaller in the evening – before returning to its full size the next morning.


The Happy Brain

Twenty years ago, Dr. Amit Sood, a Professor of Medicine at Mayo Clinic, came to the U.S. thinking he was coming to the Disneyland of the world. He expected everyone here to be very happy. What he saw surprised and shocked him. In this funny, fast-moving, and deeply insightful talk, Dr. Sood shares his journey over two decades and across two continents, finding a way to help us outsmart our neural predispositions to suffering. In the process, he takes us on a back-stage tour of the human brain and outlines the gist of a structured program he is taking globally to decrease stress and improve focus, resilience, and happiness.


Weekly Neuroscience Update

A new study has found that while stereotypic shapes exist for this structure, individuals with a broader hippocampus tend to perform better on various tests that assess memory. The image is for illustrative purposes only. Image credit: Camillo Golgi.

A new study has found that while stereotypic shapes exist for this structure, individuals with a broader hippocampus tend to perform better on various tests that assess memory. The image is for illustrative purposes only. Image credit: Camillo Golgi.

New research challenges the long-held belief that a larger hippocampus is directly linked to improved memory function.

Premature birth can alter the connectivity between key areas of the brain, according to a new study led by King’s College London. The findings should help researchers to better understand why premature birth is linked to a greater risk of neurodevelopmental problems, including autistic spectrum disorders and attention deficit disorders.

Scientists have uncovered mathematical equations behind the way the brain forms – and even loses – memories.

New scanning methods which map the wiring of the brain could provide a valuable new tool to predict people at risk of schizophrenia, according to a new study.

People with depression may be more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease, according to a large study published in Neurology.

Medical researchers have known for several years that there is some sort of link between long-term depression and an increased risk of stroke. But now scientists are finding that even after such depression eases, the risk of stroke can remain high.

A new study from the University of Cambridge has identified one of the oldest fossil brains ever discovered – more than 500 million years old – and used it to help determine how heads first evolved in early animals.

Researchers have succeeded in reconstructing the neuronal networks that interconnect the elementary units of sensory cortex — cortical columns. The scientists say that this study marks a major step forward to advance the understanding of the organizational principles of the neocortex and sets the stage for future studies that will provide extraordinary insight into how sensory information is represented, processed and encoded within the cortical circuitry.

Smokers who are able to quit might actually be hard-wired for success, according to a study from Duke Medicine.

Scientists are attempting to mimic the memory and learning functions of neurons found in the human brain. To do so, they investigated the electronic equivalent of the synapse, the bridge, making it possible for neurons to communicate with each other.

Finally this week, in a study using functional magnetic resonance imaging, scientists found that our inherent risk-taking preferences affect how we view and act on information from other people.


Why did the Edge walk off the edge? The answer might surprise you

edge

The music world was shaken briefly this week when lead guitarist with rock band U2, Dave ‘the Edge’ Evans, literally walked off the edge of the stage during a sell-out performance in Vancouver. Fortunately Dave survived the fall intact enough to joke about it later. It got me wondering what may have led to the fall? One possible explanation is a scientific one.

First a definition

Rod cells (or rods) – photoreceptor cells concentrated at the outer edges of the retina at the back of the eyeball which are sensitive to dim light and are almost entirely responsible for peripheral vision and/or night vision.

eye_anatomy

The human eye is built differently in men and women

The eye is an extension of the brain. The retina at the back of each eyeball contains about ninety million rod-shaped cells to handle vision in dim light including peripheral vision and/or night vision. It may surprise you but most men have less peripheral vision than most women. This is because men have less rod cells than women in the back of their eye balls. In fact, women are so sensitive to dim light that they find strong light stressful –  painful even. That is why more women than men wear sunglasses. In contrast, most men are comfortable in bright light as it eliminates the need for them to rely on their weak peripheral vision.

Do women have eyes in the back of their head?

You’ve no doubt heard that women have eyes in the back of their heads. You may have grown up believing this was true of your Mother who seemed to know what you were doing, even when her back was turned. Most women’s peripheral vision is effective up to almost 180 degrees. It is weak or absent in most men. A man’s eyes are larger than a woman’s and his brain configures them for a type of long distance tunnel vision, which means he can see clearly and accurately directly in front of him and over great distances – almost like binoculars. This allows a man to focus clearly on a distant target while women can monitor everything going on around her. This is part of the reason why women can cook dinner and watch the kids at the same time – a recipe for disaster with many men.

Men stare – women don’t 

The number of men injured or killed on our roads is more than double that of women. Not only will men will take more risks crossing the road than women, but as they get older their poorer peripheral vision increases their injury rate. Men tend to stare i.e. they concentrate on getting somewhere or something across the street and just don’t see the car coming. Car insurance statistics show that female drivers are less likely to be hit on the side than are male drivers. The lack of peripheral vision in men obstructs their ability to see traffic approaching from the side. Socks, shoes, car keys, wallets and even kerbs they’re all there, but men just can’t see them as well as women can – unless of course they stare. In fact, far from being bad manners, staring is a man’s way to compensate for their lack of peripheral vision.

Back to the edge

Chances are that the Edge simply walked off the edge because like most men of his age he just did not see it, due in part to the steady deterioration in a male’s already weak peripheral vision. I am happy to hear that Dave survived with only a few scratches.

 


Inside The Compassionate Brain

Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., is the science director of the UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center. In this video for the Mindfulness and Compassion conference, Dr. Simon-Thomas explains the neurological mechanisms that support compassion – and why mindfulness meditation can help support the growth of compassion.


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