Your brain is more responsive to your friends than to strangers
Researchers from UT Southwestern Medical Center have described for the first time how the brain’s memory center repairs itself following severe trauma – a process that may explain why it is harder to bounce back after multiple head injuries.
People with autism use their brains differently from other people, which may explain why some have extraordinary abilities to remember and draw objects in detail, according to new research from the University of Montreal.
Five more genes which increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease have been identified, according to research published in Nature Genetics. This takes the number of identified genes linked to Alzheimer’s to 10 – the new genes affect three bodily processes and could become targets for treatment. If the effects of all 10 could be eliminated the risk of developing the disease would be cut by 60%, although new treatments could be 15 years away.
The sudden understanding or grasp of a concept is often described as an “Aha” moment and now researchers from New York University are using a functional MRI (fMRI) scanner to study how these moments of insight are captured and stored in our brain.
Mark Changizi is asking the question how do we have reading areas for a brain that didn’t evolve to read?
In order to develop new medications for alcoholism, researchers need to understand how alcohol acts on the brain’s reward system. A previously unknown mechanism has been shown to block the rewarding effects of alcohol on the brain, reveals a thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.
Researchers from the University of Valencia (UV) investigating the brain structures involved with empathy have concluded that the brain circuits responsible are in part the same as those involved with violence.
And finally…your brain is more responsive to your friends than to strangers, even if those strangers have more in common with you, says a new study. Researchers looked at the brain areas associated with social information. The results of the study show that social connections override similar interests.
Exercise is important in keeping your heart and lungs healthy. We know for decades that the effort required in exercise allows life-giving oxygen to travel quicker and in greater amounts to all the tissues of the body – allowing the cells in them to grow and divide. A noticeable exception to this rule is the brain.
Neurons are different
Nerve cells or neurons are notoriously bad at dividing. Rather than divide, a neuron survives by making up to 10,000 connections to neighbouring neurons – and this is the key to how we learn and recall as memories are created and strengthened. This compromise works well for the first four decades of life however by your 50’s a gradual loss of neurons and their connections starts to take it toll resulting in a noticeable reduction in cognition as we find it harder to remember, especially recent events.
An unexpected finding
Recent scientific findings from Columbia University show that exercise is important in helping to reverse this age-related loss of neurons. In this study in a small group of middle-aged people, exercising just an hour a day, four times a week, for three months triggers the growth of new neurons – a feat which has previously proved almost impossible for neuroscientists to achieve using drugs. Neuroscientists are still working out the possible reasons why simple exercise is so powerful at triggering the birth of neurons but a clue may be that the brain is very well supplied by blood vessels needed to deliver the food and oxygen to help make and maintain the trillions of synapses in the brain. In fact the brain is one of the most oxygen-sensitive organs of the body. It receives 20% of the cardiac output and accounts for about 25% of overall resting oxygen consumption. In addition, the brain as a highly vascular organ is very sensitive to changes in blood perfusion. It seems the extra increase in blood perfusion and life-giving oxygen associated with exercise may invigorate the brain to such a degree that it starts to actually grow new neurons again.
Exercise is as important as drugs
The finding that exercise triggers the brain to grow new nerve cells is a truly stunning discovery that will have implications for public healthcare policies for an increasingly ageing population. In addition, new treatments for brain illness such as Alzheimer’s disease and head injury may involve a combination of different therapies such as medication, psychological therapies, social support, self-help techniques and now, most importantly exercise. This combined approach will treat the person as a whole, and marks the beginning of the journey back to wellness and a normal life.
So the message is simple –if you want to stay smart just get out there and exercise.
New research shows that the way the brain first captures and encodes a situation or event is quite different from how it processes subsequent similar events.
I was interested to read a special report from the Center for Neuro Skills which describes the latest developments into how the brain registers new memory and equally importantly, how it strengthens older memories.
It has been known for years that the so-called NMDA receptor – a lock on the skin of the nerve cell which is ‘opened’ by a special key – the neurotransmitter glutamate - is involved in new learning and memory.
However this research shows that the way the brain first captures and encodes a situation or event is quite different from how it processes subsequent similar events, and suggests a whole new NMDA-independent system involving the so-called AMPA receptor – a less powerful type of NMDA receptor – involved in strengthening older memories.
Why is this so important?
Well, this new system is known to be critically involved in Alzheimer’s disease and other kinds of brain deficit memory impairment including stroke and head injury.
In fact, you may be interested to know that several drug companies have developed drugs that open the AMPA receptors called ampakines – a class of compounds known to enhance attention span and alertness, and facilitate learning and memory.
Unlike earlier stimulants such as caffeine, methylphenidate (Ritalin), and the amphetamines, ampakines do not seem to have unpleasant, long-lasting side effects such as sleeplessness.
These new memory enhancing drugs will be coming to a pharmacy near you within the next few years!