Author Archives: Editor

New genes identified with key role in the development of severe childhood epilepsies.

Originally posted on Healthinnovations:

In the largest collaborative study so far, an international team of researchers from the European EuroEPINOMICS consortium, including scientists from VIB and Antwerp University identified novel causes for severe childhood epilepsies. The researchers analyzed the genetic information of 356 patients and their parents. In their analysis, the research teams looked for genes that had acquired new mutations in the children with severe epilepsies when compared to the DNA of the parents.  The results of the opensource study were published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

In total, they identified 429 new mutations and in 12% of children, these mutations were considered unequivocally causative for the patient’s epilepsy. In addition to several known genes for childhood epilepsies, the research team found strong evidence for additional novel genes, many of which are involved in the function of the synapse, the main structure in the nervous system that allows for communication…

View original 369 more words

Bodily Map Of Emotions

Yellow shows regions of increased sensation while blue areas represent decreased feeling in these composite images. Image courtesy of Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, and Jari Hietanen.

Yellow shows regions of increased sensation while blue areas represent decreased feeling in these composite images. Image courtesy of Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, and Jari Hietanen.

More than 700 participants in Finland, Sweden and Taiwan participated in experiments aimed at mapping their bodily sensations in connection with specific emotions. Participants viewed emotion-laden words, videos, facial expressions and stories. They then self-reported areas of their bodies that felt different than before they’d viewed the material. By coloring in two computer-generated silhouettes — one to note areas of increased bodily sensation and the second to mark areas of decreased sensation — participants were able to provide researchers with a broad base of data showing both positive and negative bodily responses to different emotions.

Researchers found statistically discrete areas for each emotion tested, such as happiness, contempt and love, that were consistent regardless of respondents’ nationality. Afterward, researchers applied controls to reduce the risk that participants may have been biased by sensation-specific phrases common to many languages (such as the English “cold feet” as a metaphor for fear, reluctance or hesitation). The results are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Mixed Feelings: Paul Bach-y-Rita and Neuroplasticity

A short 10 minute story by Wired Science called ‘Mixed Feelings’ showcasing the work of the late Paul Bach-y-Rita, an American neuroscientist whose most notable work was in the field of neuroplasticity.   Bach-y-Rita’s revolutionary work sought to rewire the brain so that one sense could potentially compensate for another that was damaged or absent; working to help the blind to acquire a certain form of ‘sight’ using the sense of touch, and also helping ‘wobblers’, people with damaged vestibular function, so their brains might create a new mode for having balance.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

The study by Kep Kee Loh and Dr Ryota Kanai found that grey-matter density in the highlighted region of the brain (anterior cingulate cortex) was negatively associated with the amount of media multitasking activity. Credit Kep Kee Loh & Ryota Kanai.

The study by Kep Kee Loh and Dr Ryota Kanai found that grey-matter density in the highlighted region of the brain (anterior cingulate cortex) was negatively associated with the amount of media multitasking activity. Credit Kep Kee Loh & Ryota Kanai.

Simultaneously using mobile phones, laptops and other media devices could be changing the structure of our brains, according to new University of Sussex research.

Breathing meditation is a powerful ally for military veterans recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to research recently published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

Areas of the brain that respond to reward and pleasure are linked to the ability of a drug known as butorphanol to relieve itch, according to new research.

An international research team has identified gene mutations causing severe, difficult-to-treat forms of childhood epilepsy.

A chemical in the brain plays a vital role in controlling the involuntary movements and vocal tics associated with Tourette Syndrome (TS), a new study has shown.

Finally this week, the traditional understanding in neuroscience is that tactile sensations from the skin are only assembled to form a complete experience in the cerebral cortex, the most advanced part of the brain. However, this is challenged by new research findings from Lund University in Sweden that suggest both that other levels in the brain play a greater role than previously thought, and that a larger proportion of the brain’s different structures are involved in the perception of touch.



Saving Brains, A Grand Challenge

Food for thought about investing in the future of our children, in this video by Dr. Mike Evans, founder of the Health Design Lab at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, an Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of Toronto, and a staff physician at St. Michael’s Hospital.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

The study revealed that EGFR signaling is suppressed in a subset of glioblastomas. This image is for illustrative purposes only and shows an MRI brain scan of a person with glioblastoma brain cancer. Credit The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.

The study revealed that EGFR signaling is suppressed in a subset of glioblastomas. This image is for illustrative purposes only and shows an MRI brain scan of a person with glioblastoma brain cancer. Credit The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.

Researchers have found one of the keys to why certain glioblastomas – the primary form of a deadly brain cancer – are resistant to drug therapy. The answer lies not in the DNA sequence of the tumor, but in its epigenetic signature. These findings have been published online as a priority report in the journal Oncotarget.

It has been proposed that green tea extract may have a beneficial impact on cognitive functioning, suggesting promising clinical implications. However, the neural mechanisms underlying this putative cognitive enhancing effect of green tea extract still remain unknown.

According to researchers at the University of Montreal, the regions of the brain below the cortex play an important role as we train our bodies’ movements and, critically, they interact more effectively after a night of sleep.

Researchers find that the risk of future stroke is 39% higher among patients with cognitive impairment than those with normal cognitive function, according to a new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

A study is shining new light on a sleep disorder called “sleep drunkenness.” The disorder may be as prevalent as affecting one in every seven people. The research is published in Neurology.

A mindfulness-based therapy for depression has the added benefit of reducing health-care visits among patients who often see their family doctors, according to a new study.

In what may be the largest study of sleep problems among individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS), researchers at UC Davis have found that widely undiagnosed sleep disorders may be at the root of the most common and disabling symptom of the disease: fatigue.

Scientists have provided the first evidence that the lack of a naturally occurring protein is linked to early signs of dementia.

Digital Literacy May Protect Against Cognitive Decline

Originally posted on HealthCetera - CHMP's Blog:

Can digital literacy delay cognitive decline?

Researchers think it might. In a recently published study in The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences they found that digital literacy — the ability to engage, plan, and execute digital actions such as web browsing and exchanging e-mails — is an independent protective factor against cognitive decline.

Using data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, they followed 6,442 participants in the UK between the ages of 50 and 89 for eight years. The data measured delayed recall from a 10-word-list learning task across five separate measurement points. Socioeconomic status, including wealth and education, comorbidities, and baseline cognitive function were included in the models.

senior-computerHigher wealth, education and digital literacy improved delayed recall, while people with functional impairment, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, depressive symptoms or no digital literacy showed decline.

Those who reported being nonusers of Internet/E-mail and intermittent…

View original 214 more words

Inside The Virtual Brain

Find out how scientists at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute are collaborating with 10 sites across the globe to develop the world’s first integrated computer model of a fully functioning human brain

Neuroscience and Education



During my recent sabbatical I had the pleasure of speaking to the staff of Mount Barker High School in Adelaide.

Originally posted on Mount Barker High School:

Jenni Cook
Assistant Principal

On the first day back at school this term staff enjoyed a presentation from Neuroscientist, Professor Billy O’Connor, a passionate researcher into neuroscience and education.

Billy is the head of Teaching and Research in Physiology at the University of Limerick Graduate Entry Medical School, and was on sabbatical at Flinders University. We were fortunate enough to have him visit us on his last day in Australia.

Billy talked about recent research into the neuroplasticity of the brain and how it is possible to rewire the pathways of the brain through ‘exercise’, much as we exercise any muscle to build its strength.

Research shows that during adolescence the brain is rewiring itself as children become adults. During this process there can be feelings of loss and grief, uncertainty and confusion and excessive emotions. As we all know, adolescents can sometimes be temperamental!

The last part of…

View original 268 more words

Message to Richard Dawkins: Human Happiness Is Not Determined By Circumstance


The eminent geneticist Richard Dawkins caused controversy last week with his remarks that it would be immoral to carry on with a pregnancy if the mother knew the foetus had Down’s syndrome.  His remarks implied that a child with Down’s syndrome has little to add to the world and the condition overshadows any achievement the child might make.

As a neuroscientist and Professor myself  I would suggest that he has missed something important namely that human happiness/ mental health /quality of life/ well-being is not determined by what happens/does not happen to us or indeed by what we have/don’t have.

Genetics may be difficult but humans are even more complex!

It is an astonishing fact that the recipe for human happiness can be summarised into just one sentence and here it is. Happiness is determined by an ability to engage and respond appropriately to the people, things and events that surround us.  Notice from this, that your own happiness depends on YOU alone and not the people, things and events that surround you.

What is empathy?

The ability to engage and respond appropriately to people, things and events is the basis of empathy. Furthermore, the quality of your engagement and the appropriateness of your response determine your level of empathy. Empathy allows human beings to not only interact with each other effectively, but also to predict the actions, intentions, and feelings of others.  A useful trait indeed for a happy life.

Where is empathy in the brain?

The recent discovery of mirror neurons  – a cluster of neurons that help connect us emotionally to other people, respond sympathetically towards others and allow us to anticipate others intentions  is believed to be the basis of human empathy

Empathy – you either use it or lose it.

How can we learn to better engage and respond?  The recent discovery that the practice of meditation changes the shape of those brain areas involved in empathy  – allowing those discrete areas in the brain to grow or change – by adding a tiny fraction of the brain’s neural circuitry and eliminating old ones. This finding has established a new field of contemplative neuroscience – the brain science of meditation – and it helps to explain how meditation acts to improve mental health by cultivating the empathy needed to lead a more compassionate and loving outlook in life.

Happiness or heartbreak.

I do think that Professor Dawkins’s statement might be of some benefit if it opens up a debate on how we deal with what life serves up to each of us. At various times we may experience a great deal of stress in our lives and in this we are not alone. The question is – as events and worries beset us, are we going to turn more and more to quick fixes to handle our dis-stress?

Probably the most important lesson to be taken from Richard Dawkins/ Down’s syndrome controversy is the realization that the stresses of life and how we manage them IS the difference between happiness and heartbreak.

I look forward to developing this theme in greater detail including drug-free tips on how the avoid worry and stress in future posts.

Other posts on this topic

Emotions are habits, so pick up a good one

Mental health and well-being for mind and brain

What can neuroscience teach us about consciousness,mental health and well-being?

The empathic brain

Your brain and the art of confusion




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 805 other followers