Weekly Neuroscience Update

Measuring changes in the activity of neurons in a cortical area while perturbing the activity in another area. Credit: Sainsbury Wellcome Centre

Researchers have discovered how two neocortical areas in the brain communicate with one another and found that their influence on each other changes over much faster timescales than previously thought.

Neuroscientists using MRI scans discovered that psychopathic people have a 10% larger striatum, a cluster of neurons in the subcortical basal ganglia of the forebrain, than regular people. This represents a clear biological distinction between psychopaths and non-psychopathic people.

Glycan, a special sugar protein, appears to play a significant role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Genetic studies have offered clues, identifying genes associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder, but despite finding many pieces to the puzzle, scientists have not yet figured out how they all fit together, and why there is such wide variation in ASD symptoms. Now an international team of scientists report significant progress in understanding how the combined effects of rare mutations and common genetic variation determine whether a child will develop ASD.

Researchers identify the exertion level where aerosol particle emission increases exponentially, offering an explanation as to why exercise intensity may be linked to the transmission of infections.

The dopaminergic system appears to play an important but overlooked role in LSD’s effects on consciousness, according to new research published in the journal Psychopharmacology. The findings provide new insight into the neurophysiological mechanisms responsible for the unique effects of psychedelic drugs.

Finally this week, a new study has identified potential targets to develop a therapy that could prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Researchers from the UMH-CSIC Neurosciences Institute have developed an innovative strategy that allows imaging of microglial and astrocyte activation in the gray matter of the brain using diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (dw-MRI). Credit: IN-CSIC-UMH

Research has made it possible to visualize for the first time and in great detail brain inflammation using diffusion-weighted Magnetic Resonance Imaging. This detailed “X-ray” of inflammation cannot be obtained with conventional MRI, but requires data acquisition sequences and special mathematical models. Once the method was developed, the researchers were able to quantify the alterations in the morphology of the different cell populations involved in the inflammatory process in the brain.

A new study conducted at 38 schools in Barcelona suggests that traffic noise at schools has a detrimental effect on the development of working memory and attention in primary-school students.

People who can frequently recall their dreams tend to be more creative and exhibit increased functional connectivity in a key brain network, according to new research published in the journal Nature and Science of Sleep. The findings provide new insights into the neurophysiological correlates of dreaming.

Researchers have identified elevated levels of a biomarker in the blood that persists for months in long COVID patients who experience neuropsychiatric symptoms.

Plenty of people claim they can’t function without their morning coffee, but is there a neurological basis to it? A study published in Scientific Reports suggests that coffee does have beneficial effects on cognitive function, and it may do this by reorganizing brain functional connectivity.

Low exposure to gonadal hormones during early gestation and infancy predicts higher recalled childhood gender nonconformity in men, according to new research.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have explored the regions of the brain where concrete and abstract concepts materialize. A new study now explores if people who grow up in different cultures and speak different languages form these concepts in the same regions of the brain.

Finally this week, new research will explore how psilocybin affects specific brain pathways in autistic adults and is the first-ever mechanistic study of psilocybin in autistic adults.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

The return of consciousness after traumatic brain injury (TBI) remains something of a mystery for scientists and is not easy to predict. A series of recently published studies have found that by using technologies to monitor brain functions after TBI, scientists may be able to better predict who will “wake up” after TBI and what brain circuits to target to potentially treat disorders of consciousness.

According to a new report, both genetics and environmental factors contribute to socioeconomic status’ impact in an interplay with effects that spans several areas of the brain.

An immersive virtual-reality anger control training program can reduce the level of anger provoked, according to a new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. 

A new study examines the influence of statins on emotional bias, a marker for risk of depression.

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have studied how the screen habits of U.S. children correlate with how their cognitive abilities develop over time. They found that the children who spent an above-average time playing video games increased their intelligence more than the average, while TV watching or social media had neither a positive nor a negative effect.

Finally this week, a new study reveals the mechanisms behind repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation’s effect on the brain in the treatment of depression.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Can people who understand the emotions of others better interpret emotions conveyed through music? A new study by an international team of researchers suggests the abilities are linked. People who are more accurate at reading another person’s emotions are better able to understand what a musician is trying to convey through their compositions. Additionally, those with higher empathetic accuracy are better able to feel the emotions conveyed through music.

A team of researchers affiliated with several institutions in the U.S. has identified a subtype of brain cells that die in Parkinson’s patients.

Elevated levels of PHGDH in the blood could signal the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers caution older adults against using “brain-boosting” supplements that contain serine due to its link to PHGDH. As PHGDH is a key enzyme in serine production, elevated PHGDH levels result in increased serine levels in the brain.

A new study examines the role of a brain area called the anterior superior temporal sulcus (aSTS) in forgiving those who make unintentional mistakes.

Using artificial intelligence technology, researchers have identified both risk and protective factors for depression in middle-aged to older adults. Social isolation, the study found, was the biggest risk factor for depression, followed by mobility difficulties and health issues.

Could there be a link between cognitive decline and excessive daytime napping? New research published in Alzheimer’s and Dementia suggests a potential connection.

Stimulating the vagus nerve, which provides a direct link between the gut and brain, makes people pay less attention to sad facial expressions according to new research published in the journal Neuroscience.

A new study reveals a mechanism that appears to reverse the build-up of protein aggregates by refolding them, rather than removing them.

Researchers found idiopathic autism occurs as the result of epigenetic abnormalities in hematopoietic cells during fetal development, leading to immune dysregulation in the brain and gut.

A specific Parkinson’s related gene could be a driver behind vocal production problems associated with the disease. The findings could lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

Finally this week by scanning the brains of 24 people actively suppressing a particular memory, researchers found a neural circuit that detects, inhibits, and eventually erodes intrusive memories.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

 Clock proteins generating cyanobacterial circadian rhythms. Credit: NINS/IMS

Scientists want to increase their understanding of circadian rhythms, those internal 24-hour biological clock cycles of sleeping and waking that occur in organisms, ranging from humans to plants to fungi to bacteria. Now a research team has examined the complex workings of cyanobacteria and can better comprehend what drives its circadian clock.

A new study published is the first to look at multiple levels of biology within women with postpartum depression (PPD) to see how women with the condition differ from those without it.

There are five different diseases that attack the language areas in the left hemisphere of the brain and slowly cause progressive impairments of language known as primary progressive aphasia, reports a new study.

A team of scientists has discovered how working memory is “formatted”—a finding that enhances our understanding of how visual memories are stored. 

People whose brains release more of the neurochemical oxytocin are kinder to others and are more satisfied with their lives. This is the finding of new research, published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, that also discovered that oxytocin release increases with age, showing why, on average, people are more caring as they get older.

A genetic study involving thousands of people with bipolar disorder has revealed new insight into the condition’s molecular underpinnings.  

One of the most important molecules in the brain doesn’t work quite the way scientists thought it did, according to new work by researchers. The results, published April 20 in Nature, may aid the development of a new generation of more effective neurological and psychiatric therapies with fewer side effects.

Alzheimer’s Disease could be caused by damage to a protective barrier in the body that allows fatty substances to build up in the brain, newly published research argues.

Researchers have established for the first time a link between depressive disorders and mechanical changes in blood cells.

Nearly half of all older adults now die with a diagnosis of dementia listed on their medical record, up 36% from two decades ago, a new study shows.

Finally this week, epigenetic markers of cognitive aging can predict performance on cognitive tests later in life, according to a study published in the journal Aging.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

The number of axons estimated to interconnect the 360 cortical parcels of the HCP-MMP1.0 atlas. Credit: The researchers

A new study reveals axon density is lower than previously believed between distant regions of the brain.

In a study published in the journal Cell Reports, an international team of investigators used biomarkers, statistical modeling, and other techniques to develop tools for measuring the biological ages of various organ systems. Based on their findings, the researchers report that there are multiple “clocks” within the body that vary widely based on factors including genetics and lifestyle in each individual.

Researchers have identified a new pathway in the brain that plays an important role in our response to fear.

Researchers have now demonstrated that the brain waves during periods of deep sleep in a specific area of the brain can be used to determine the extent of an individual’s propensity for risk during their everyday life.

A study at Boston Children’s Hospital explains for the first time why COVID-19 causes severe inflammation in some people, leading to acute respiratory distress and multi-organ damage. 

A team of researchers has found a link between the use of antibiotics by middle-aged women and cognitive decline later in life. The group has published a paper describing their work on the open-access site PLOS ONE.

Women who experienced childhood trauma had an increased risk of developing multiple sclerosis later in life. The evidence suggests childhood abuse and trauma can alter the immune system and increase the risk of developing autoimmune diseases.

A study has found no increased risk of developing brain tumors regardless of whether a person was a frequent cell phone user or if they had never used a cell phone before.

The consolidation of learning that occurs during sleep is a result of the learning process and not merely because certain brain regions get used a lot during learning. This finding is published in The Journal of Neuroscience and resolves a long-standing debate among sleep researchers.

People who grew up in rural or suburban areas have better spatial navigation skills than those raised in cities, particularly cities with grid-pattern streets, finds a new study.

The return of consciousness after traumatic brain injury (TBI) remains something of a mystery for scientists and is not easy to predict. A series of recently published studies have found that by using technologies to monitor brain functions after TBI, scientists may be able to better predict who will “wake up” after TBI and what brain circuits to target to potentially treat disorders of consciousness.

Finally this week, researchers have established for the first time a link between depressive disorders and mechanical changes in blood cells.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

CSF flow speed becomes hyperdynamic with severe CAA. Credit: Nature Aging (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s43587-022-00181-4

A new study suggests that a contributing factor in dementia may come down to a double dose of bad waste management in the brain.

The first major study to compare brain scans of people before and after they catch Covid has revealed shrinkage and tissue damage in regions linked to smell and mental capacities months after subjects tested positive.

Light-to-moderate regular alcohol consumption is linked to reductions in overall brain volume, a new study reports.

Researchers have discovered two types of brain cells that play a key role in dividing continuous human experience into distinct segments that can be recalled later. The discovery provides new promise as a path toward development of novel treatments for memory disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. 

Stanford Medicine researchers have linked a specific gene known to be associated with ALS with a characteristic of the disease, opening avenues for a targeted therapy.

A research group from the University of Bologna discovered the first causal evidence of the double dissociation between what we see and what we believe we see: these two different mechanisms derive from the frequency and amplitude of alpha oscillations.

A new, first-of-its-kind clinical trial will examine how the brain adapts to advanced, bionic arms in children born without a limb, with the ultimate goal of improving children’s control of their prosthetic.

People who suffer from a neurological or mental health condition are at increased risk of developing another disorder later in life. Parkinson’s disease patients are four times more likely to develop dementia, and those with mental health disorders were also at greater risk of developing dementia later in life.

Finally this week, new research shows if the circadian clock is disrupted, we might be at greater risk of retinal degeneration as we age.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Credit: PLOS Pathogens (2022). DOI: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1010339

New research is providing hope to immunocompromised people who are vulnerable to COVID-19. Scientists have discovered promising evidence that T cell immunotherapy could help them to fight against multiple strains of the virus.

Treatments integrating music and auditory beat stimulation are effective in reducing state anxiety in some patients, according to a new study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

The underlying molecular mechanisms that promote autoimmune diseases are multilayered and complex. Now, scientists have succeeded in deciphering new details of these processes. Their work supports the notion that excessive consumption of glucose directly promotes the pathogenic functions of certain cells of the immune system and that, conversely, a calorie-reduced diet can have a beneficial effect on immune diseases.

Teens who had an insecure attachment to their mothers as toddlers are more likely to overestimate the trustworthiness of strangers, a new study reports.

A new study reveals that oleic acid produced in the brain is an essential regulator of the process that enables learning and memory and supports proper mood regulation. The finding has paved the path to discovering potential new therapeutic strategies to counteract cognitive and mood decline in patients with neurological disorders.

A small study found people who received lithium, a drug commonly associated with the treatment of bipolar disorder, are less likely to develop dementia.

Scientists have found that people with Parkinson’s disease have a clear “genetic signature” of the disease in their memory T cells. The scientists hope that targeting these genes may open the door to new Parkinson’s treatments and diagnostics.

If you are forgetful or make mistakes when in a hurry, a new study found that meditation could help you to become less error-prone.

Older adults who take statin drugs have a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease or parkinsonism symptoms later in life compared to those who do not take statins. Researchers speculate this may be because statins have a neuroprotective effect on arteries in the brain.

Finally this week, researchers have developed a new, fully automated prosthetic arm that learns during normal use and adapts to varying conditions.

How Things You Do Change Your Brain

Ever wonder how ballet dancers can spin and spin and spin, but never seem to get dizzy? Neuroplasticity, that’s how. This short video explains how it works, and how you can use your brain in the same way.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Credit: Johnson et al.

Researchers recently carried out a large-scale analysis of the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Their findings, published in Nature Neuroscience, unveiled a series of disease-related changes in protein co-expression modules, which were not identified when examining RNA networks in the same brain regions.

A new study, published in the journal PNAS, proposes how the brain stays stable despite changes in the neural code.

Cognitive decline is the biggest factor in determining how long patients with Alzheimer’s disease will live after being diagnosed, according to a new research study. The findings, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, are a first step that could help health care providers provide reliable prediction and planning assistance for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and their families.

An increase in depressive symptoms in adolescence has been linked to ozone exposure as a result of air pollution, even in areas that meet air quality standards.

Seven in ten long COVID patients experience concentration and memory problems several months after the initial onset of their disease, with many performing worse than their peers on cognitive tests, according to new research from the University of Cambridge.

Finally this week, researchers have developed a new method for training people to be creative, one that shows promise of succeeding far better than current ways of sparking innovation.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Credit: German Primate Center

The precision with which we perceive the real world is not stable in time, rather it rhythmically fluctuates between high precision and low precision states several times per second. These fluctuations follow rhythmic electrical activities in the brain. Electrical rhythms of the brain range across different frequencies, from 1 to 250 hertz.

Brain circuitry responsible for motivation and pleasure is activated when a person experiences pain. The findings reveal a link as to why some people may overeat when they experience chronic pain.

For the first time, neuroscientists have identified a population of neurons in the human brain that lights up when we hear singing, but not other types of music. These neurons, found in the auditory cortex, appear to respond to the specific combination of voice and music, but not to either regular speech or instrumental music. Exactly what they are doing is unknown and will require more work to uncover, the researchers say.

People exposed to more green space during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic reported significantly less depression and anxiety, according to new research published in the journal PLOS One.

A new study links cardiorespiratory fitness in older adults to a decreased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Older adults with higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness have a 33% reduced risk for developing Alzheimer’s.

Finally this week, Nostalgia decreases activity in pain-related brain areas and decreases subjective ratings of thermal pain, according to research recently published in Journal of Neuroscience.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Credit: Oxford University

Researchers at Oxford University have implanted a novel closed-loop research platform for investigating the role of the pedunculopontine nucleus (PPN)—a brainstem nucleus—in Parkinson’s-like Multiple Systems Atrophy (MSA).

Your brain remains as nimble as ever until you hit your 60s, according to a report published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

A team of researchers has developed a way to create a molecular map of the human blood-brain barrier. In their paper published in the journal Nature, the group describes how they created their map and what it revealed about disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Brain organization differs between boys and girls with autism, according to a new study from the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Children with insomnia symptoms are likely to persist with them as young adults and are significantly more likely to develop an insomnia disorder in early adulthood compared to children who do not have difficulty sleeping, according to new research.

A specific group of fungi residing in the intestines can protect against intestinal injury and influence social behavior, according to new preclinical research.

The University of Oulu Functional Neuroimaging research group has for the first time succeeded in describing how the various types of pulsations in the human brain change when a person sleeps. Brain pulsation changes during sleep and their role in brain clearance have not been previously studied in humans. The results of the study may also help understand the mechanisms behind many brain diseases.

Finally this week, selenium, a natural mineral found in grains, meats, and nuts can reverse cognitive impairment following a stroke and improve learning and memory in the aging brain.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Ke Wu, a PhD student in BU’s department of mechanical engineering, demonstrates a new magnetic metamaterial device intended to be used in conjunction with MRI machines to boost the quality of brain scans. Credit: Cydney Scott, Boston University

A novel wearable magnetic metamaterial could help make MRI imaging faster, cheaper, and crisper.

While the word “mutation” may conjure up alarming notions, a mutation in brain immune cells serves a positive role in protecting people against Alzheimer’s disease. Now University of California, Irvine biologists have discovered the mechanisms behind this crucial process.

People cannot distinguish between a face generated by Artificial Intelligence – using StyleGAN2- and a real face say researchers, who are calling for safeguards to prevent “deep fakes”.

Minor everyday rises in blood pressure due to short-term stressors can be linked to a brain area that controls conscious and learned motor skills. This discovery, presented by researchers, paves the way for a chance to influence the rises in blood pressure and, in the long run, prevent hypertension.

MRI scans of children aged 9 to 10 years with ADHD showed few differences in structural brain measurements compared to their unaffected peers, according to a new study.

A recent study has shown that the brain has neurons that fire specifically during certain mathematical operations. The findings indicate that some of the neurons detected are active exclusively during additions, while others are active during subtractions. They do not care whether the calculation instruction is written down as a word or a symbol.

New research has shown that a bacterium commonly present in the nose can sneak into the brain and set off a cascade of events that may lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

A research team has discovered that communication between two key memory regions in the brain determines how what we experience becomes part of what we remember, and as these regions mature, the precise ways by which they interact make us better at forming lasting memories.

Finally this week, digital twins are already used in manufacturing, industry, and aerospace. Now a European project called Neurotwin wants to make virtual copies of brains.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

A new study underscores the importance of healthy sleep to prevent the Alzheimer’s related amyloid-beta 42 protein from forming clumps in the brain.

It has long been known that there is an association between food and pain, as people with chronic pain often struggle with their weight. Researchers at the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience may have found an explanation in a new study that suggests that circuitry in the brain responsible for motivation and pleasure is impacted when someone experiences pain.

Researchers have found 90 minutes of mild- to moderate-intensity exercise directly after a flu or COVID-19 vaccine may provide an extra immune boost.

When a person tries to access a memory, their brain quickly sifts through everything stored in it to find the relevant information. But as we age, many of us have difficulty retrieving memories. In a review published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences researchers propose an explanation for why this might be happening: the brains of older adults allocate more space to accumulated knowledge and have more material to navigate when attempting to access memories.

Researchers have discovered a critical role the dorsal precentral gyrus plays in how people use the sound of their voices to control how they want the words they speak to sound.

Finally this week, a new study has uncovered new evidence linking higher levels of neuroticism and anxiety with the ability to experience a deeply relaxing sensation known as the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR).

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Researchers propose forgetting memories or things we have learned may be a functional feature in the brain and actually an additional form of learning.

Scientists have developed a device for recording brain activity that is more compact and affordable than the solutions currently on the market. With its high signal quality and customizable configuration, the device could help people with restricted mobility regain control of their limbs or provide advance warnings of an impending seizure to patients with epilepsy. The article presenting the device and testing results came out in Experimental Brain Research.

A new, large-scale study led by scientists at the Yale School of Public Health has established a robust link between long-term ozone exposure and an increased risk of cognitive impairment in older adults.

A new study found that frailty was a strong risk factor for dementia, even among people who are at a high genetic risk for dementia, and that it might be modified through a healthy lifestyle.

A systematic review published in the scientific journal Addiction has found that cannabis use leads to acute cognitive impairments that may continue beyond the period of intoxication.

Neuroscientists have identified a specific signal that young children and even babies use to determine whether two people have a strong relationship and a mutual obligation to help each other.

Finally this week a new study reveals how the body produces different health-promoting signaling molecules in an organ-specific manner following exercise at different points during the day.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Running may be a useful activity to undertake for better mental health. Researchers have found that only ten minutes of moderate-intensity running increases local blood flow to the various loci in the bilateral prefrontal cortex —the part of the brain that plays an important role in controlling mood and executive functions.

New research reveals how our immune cells use the body’s fat stores to fight infection. The research could help develop new approaches to treating people with bacterial infections.

Recent cannabis use is linked to extremes of nightly sleep duration—less than 6 hours or more than 9 hours—reveals a study of a large representative sample of US adults, published online in the journal Regional Anesthesia & Pain Medicine.

The risk of developing multiple sclerosis increases 32 fold following Epstein-Barr virus infection.

Living alone for several years and/or experiencing serial relationship break-ups are strongly linked to raised levels of inflammatory markers in the blood–but only in men–finds a large population study published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Long before the onset of dementia, there is evidence for increased activity of the brain’s immune system. Researchers came to this conclusion based on a study of more than 1,000 older adults. 

Sleep deprivation increases the levels of serotonin 2A neurotransmitter receptors within 6 – 8 hours. Abnormal serotonin 2A receptor function is associated with hallucinations, cognitive impairment, and is linked to psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.

Finally this week, work plays an active role in keeping the brain healthy and retaining cognitive abilities as we age, researchers report.

End of Year Neuroscience Update

Welcome to the final research update of the year. 

A new study shows that people who do vigorous physical activities, like jogging or playing competitive sports, in areas with higher air pollution may show less benefit from that exercise when it comes to certain markers of brain disease. The markers examined in the study included white matter hyperintensities, which indicate injury to the brain’s white matter, and gray matter volume. Larger gray matter volumes and smaller white matter hyperintensity volumes are markers of overall better brain health.

Long-term memory consolidation and short-term memory processes that occur during sleep do so at a cost to one another according to new research. 

In a discovery that could one day benefit people suffering from traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, and schizophrenia, researchers have identified the characteristics of more than 100 memory-sensitive neurons that play a central role in how memories are recalled in the brain.

An observational study of more than 3,000 adults aged 65 years or older has uncovered a link between cataract surgery and a reduced risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers in Japan used magnetic resonance imaging to study the brains of secondary school students during a task focused on musical observation. They found that students trained to play music from a young age exhibited certain kinds of brain activity more strongly than other students. The researchers also observed a specific link between musical processing and areas of the brain associated with language processing for the first time.

A new theory suggests consciousness is a state tied to complex cognitive operations, and not a passive basic state that automatically prevails when we are awake.

Why do so many children with autism often suffer from epilepsy? Scientists have discovered an important brain protein that quiets overactive brain cells and is at abnormally low levels in children with autism.

A newly developed self-assessment test of cognitive function can help detect early signs of dementia sooner than commonly used office-based cognitive tests.

Scientists have identified a neural mechanism that supports advanced cognitive functions such as planning and problem-solving. The mechanism distributes information from a single neuron to larger neural populations in the prefrontal cortex.

A team of researchers has found a link between the way that cells produce energy for brain function and the mutated genes found in Alzheimer’s disease.

Children with autism have abnormally low levels of the CNTNAP2 protein. The protein, which can be detected in cerebrospinal fluid samples, may serve as a new biomarker for autism and could potentially become a target to treat epilepsy that is commonly associated with ASD.

Finally, this new study brings understanding how the brain processes information one step closer.

 

 

Is Social Media Damaging Your Brain?

Last month, I contributed to an Irish Times article on the question of how, or indeed if, the internet is damaging our brain.

It’s an interesting question.

I view the answer not in terms of damage, but of manipulation. What most people want is not truth but validation.

What the internet companies do is take advantage of our need for nurturing – our need to be liked and to like others.

This manipulation can be disorientating as the human brain was never designed to cater for 10,000 likes from 10,000 individuals, especially not [for] a 13-year-old.

We are not designed for this avalanche of nurturing that comes through social media – this attention.

The dopamine is always on call, and you can be elated or let down at any minute depending on what the latest news is.

Neurogeneticist, Kevin Mitchell, an active Twitter user, is of a similar mind when it comes to framing the question in terms of damage.

“I don’t think we should say that our ‘brains have been rewired’, but our habits and modes of thinking and conceptual metaphors have certainly changed, ” he says. “I think social media, with its very different dynamics and rules, has changed the way we interact with other people, and the way we define our selves, through interactions with others.”

Mitchell believes that our ways of thinking have changed, but this is probably not a new thing. “Our ways of thinking have probably been continually changing over time, with every new technological development – think of Plato decrying the invention of writing and what it would do to young minds.”

I would certainly agree with this.

Brain plasticity is a defining feature of the brain. There is no point in your life when your brain is settled as ‘you’.

This question of personal identity feeds into a long-running philosophical debate about where exactly consciousness lies.

Under the ‘extended mind theory’, consciousness does not reside exclusively in the brain but rather straddles it and the environment.

Philosophers supporting this hypothesis have suggested that the tools which we use to upload information – a notebook, for example, or a search engine – are indistinguishable from the mind itself.

If the extended mind theory is true then it would mean our minds are literally being altered each time Facebook or Google change their algorithm.

But is it true?

Or does it just feel like it’s true because our heads are in such a tizzy from staring at our smartphones?

Before the advent of modern neuroscience, the idea that minds can exist independently from the body was not so farfetched. That belief opened up a niche for people to market all kinds of beliefs about unobservable entities including Gods, messiahs, spirits, souls, angels, devils and so on. These beliefs are for the most part benign if they do not involve making sacrifices that are ultimately irrational or being manipulated by others.

The idea of the mind being separate from the body goes back to Aristotle, but the body and the mind are one and the same thing.

As for theories that place the mind – or part of the mind – outside the brain, supernatural philosophy can be neither proved nor disproved.

Whatever about the internet literally colonising our minds, there’s no denying Big Tech has a profound influence on our thinking.

And if you think about it, there are only two industries that call their customers users: the illegal drugs industry and the software industry.

It’s too simple to say that we love the way social media connects us to the wider world, because it can isolate us too.  It offers us freedom, but only within a closed garden where Big Tech holds the key. To reconcile this contradiction we have to look into ourselves. We need to stop and ask ourselves what we are doing when we buy into social media and what is the full nature of this magical and intimate transaction.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Entrainment can safely manipulate brain waves to induce improvements in memory, a new study reveals.

In the first study of its kind to explore caffeine’s effects on dynamic visual skills, researchers concluded that caffeine increases alertness and detection accuracy for moving targets. Caffeine also improved participants’ reaction times.

New research shows that a once-weekly three-minute exposure to long-wave deep red light activates mitochondria in the retina, helping to naturally boost declining vision.

While chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) cannot yet be diagnosed during life, a new study provides the best evidence to date that a commonly used brain imaging technique, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), may expedite the ability to diagnose CTE with confidence in the living.

A new study finds that people with COVID-19 who experience sleep-disordered breathing have a 31% higher likelihood of hospitalization and death.

Running may be a useful activity to undertake for better mental health. Researchers have found that only ten minutes of moderate-intensity running increases local blood flow to the various loci in the bilateral prefrontal cortex —the part of the brain that plays an important role in controlling mood and executive functions.

New research reveals how our immune cells use the body’s fat stores to fight infection. The research could help develop new approaches to treating people with bacterial infections.

Recent cannabis use is linked to extremes of nightly sleep duration—less than 6 hours or more than 9 hours—reveals a study of a large representative sample of US adults, published online in the journal Regional Anesthesia & Pain Medicine.

Finally this week, work plays an active role in keeping the brain healthy and retaining cognitive abilities as we age, researchers report.

The Neuroscientific Basis of Leadership

Brains, leadership and belief

In the summer of 1963, a quarter of a million people showed up on the mall in Washington D.C. to hear Dr Martin Luther King Jr. speak.

Dr. King was not the only man in America who was a great orator.

Nor was he the only man who suffered in a pre-civil rights America.

But he had a gift.

He did not tell people what needed to change in America.

He told people what he believed; and the people who believed what he believed took his cause, made it their own and created structures to get the word out to others such that 250,000 people showed up on the right day and at the right time to hear him speak.

Many travelled long distances to Washington for what they themselves believed about America. It was not about black versus white: 25% of the audience was white. 

Higher authority

Dr King believed that there were two types of laws in the world: those that are made by a higher authority and those that are made by men; and not until all the laws that are made by men are consistent with the laws that are made by the higher authority will we live in a just world. It just so happens that the civil-rights movement was the perfect vehicle to help him bring his cause to life. 

There are leaders, and there are those who lead

Dr King gave the ‘I have a dream’ speech, not the ‘I have a plan’ speech. We listen to politicians now with their comprehensive 12-point plans. That is not leadership and it is not inspiring anybody.

Today, there are leaders, and there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or authority, but those who lead inspire us. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves.

Those who start with a belief have the ability to inspire those around them and to find others who inspire them.    

Is the brain wired for beliefs? 

Until recently, the task of applying what we know about the brain to the bigger question of personal human experience has been avoided by scientists.

However, the emergence of the new discipline of neuroscience – the scientific study of the nervous system – is helping us to bridge this gap by providing new ways to answer such old questions as why beliefs are so important to us.

One answer is that the brain is wired to make predictions about what is going to happen next based on what has happened in the past, and in some ways, predictions are like beliefs. For instance, scientists write about scientific predictions as if they are beliefs or explanations that are pre-emptively offered to anticipate and explain the world as we see it. 

Uncertainty can make you sick

Knowing that the brain is wired for prediction explains why we find uncertainty so stressful and if it persists, it can actually make us sick. In this way, religious beliefs can reduce the uncertainty of our own experiences by explaining the unexplainable. This also accounts for why those things we now explain through science were once thought of as magic or caused by a deity. 

Meaning is not innate and must be manufactured

The explanation that the brain is wired for prediction is a general explanation to understanding how we make meaning. The brain of a newborn is not just a miniature version of an adult brain. Its wiring is incomplete. What infants are doing is waiting for a set of wiring instructions from the world. In this way, the people who raised you influenced the wiring of your brain including what to believe and what is meaningful to you. 

We have one self-creating freedom 

As we mature into adulthood, we have one self-creating freedom in that we can accept or reject these instructions. In this way, a person is what he makes himself to be, and those who lead and inspire us help facilitate this process.

We follow those who lead not because we have to, but because we want to. We have to value this self-creating freedom that is enjoyed in our time.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

New artificial intelligence technology reveals previously unknown cell components. The findings may shed new light on human development and diseases.

A new mathematical model explains how the brain has the ability to continuously acquire new skills, specifically movement-based skills, without forgetting or degrading old ones. The theory, dubbed COIN, suggests identifying current context is key to learning how to move our bodies when acquiring skills.

Playing video games that are heavy on action can make you better at some new tasks. New research reveals that these games are helping by teaching players to be quicker learners.

The “background noise” in the brain disrupts long-memory signals by neurons. This noise interrupts the consistent rhythm of long-memory alpha wave signals in people experiencing identity confusion.

Memory errors may indicate a way in which the human cognitive system is optimally running, researchers say.

Housework is linked to sharper memory, attention span, and better leg strength, and by extension, greater protection against falls, in older adults, finds research published in the open access journal BMJ Open.

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) can be used to modulate brain rhythms and cognitive behaviors related to “giving up” during problem-solving tasks.

New research reveals that specialized cells within neural circuitry that triggers complex learning in songbirds bears a striking resemblance to a type of neural cell associated with the development of fine motor skills in the cortex of the human brain.

Finally this week, a new study links a propensity to binge-watch TV shows with personality traits. Researchers found those who lack impulse control and emotional clarity are most likely to binge-watch a television series.

 

The Neurobiology of Kindness #WorldKindnessDay

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Today is World Kindness Day. Kindness is a fundamental part of the human condition and bridges the divides of culture, religion, politics, gender, and social class.

Why does Kindness Exist?

Until recently, the task of applying what we know about the brain to the bigger question of personal human experience has been avoided by scientists. However the emergence of the new discipline of neuroscience – the scientific study of the nervous system – is helping us to bridge this gap by providing new ways to answer such age-old questions as why does kindness exist, and why is it important? To answer these questions we first need to consider an important property of nerve cells (neurons) in the human brain.

The Neurobiology of Kindness

The discovery of mirror neurons, a cluster of neurons in the brain that help connect us emotionally to other people, respond sympathetically towards others and allow us to anticipate others intentions is now believed to be the basis of human empathy. Mirror neurons were first discovered by neuroscientists in the 1990s while recording the activity of neurons in the brain where it was noticed that certain populations of neurons remain silent (observation) and active (imitation) when we watch others perform the same action, hence the name mirror neurons [1,2]. Scientists have extended this finding in the human brain to show that nerve activity in mirror neurons also behaves in the same way when we see another person expressing an emotion, and this nerve activity is not observed in disorders of empathy [3].

Kindness is the Engine for Personal Growth

Each person is a mirror of their environment which is then in turn mirrored by their own behaviour. This underlies the powerful phenomenon of social contagion – that information, ideas, and behaviors including kindness can spread through networks of people the way that infectious diseases do. For this reason, giving and receiving kindness can have a contagious effect.  Research also shows that optimal learning takes place in an environment that is creative, inclusive, rewarding and bolstered by firm, healthy boundaries, in an environment that is kind.  Even those in deep distress due to imprisonment, addiction, financial worries, and high anxiety also benefit greatly from an environment that is creative, inclusive and boundaried.

What to do when we encounter unkindness? Behaviours including anxiety, anger and rudeness can also spread through networks of people in the same way that infectious diseases do. The antidote to becoming infected with these miserable states is to be aware that every action must be consciously chosen, and not an emotional response. Another tip is to always give the benefit of the doubt when dealing with other human beings. More often than not you will be proven right.

Survival of the Kindest

Why is kindness so important? This question can be answered in the context that every single human being is unique because we each possess 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 (synapses) 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. Kindness is the green light to keep going. If you are not open to giving and receiving kindness then you may not be growing. In the same way, humankind will only evolve by making room for each and every individual to express their intellectual and spiritual evolution to the full.  In this way, the evolution of the human race has everything to do with being open to giving and receiving kindness.


References

  1. Mirror Neurons. Society for Neuroscience (2013) http://www.brainfacts.org/brain-basics/neuroanatomy/articles/2008/mirror-neurons/
  2. Kraskov A, Dancause N, Quallo MM, Shepherd S and Lemon RN. (2009) Corticospinal neurons in macaque ventral premotor cortex with mirror properties: A potential mechanism for action suppression? Neuron 64, 922-930.
  3. Corradini A, Antonietti A. (2013) Mirror neurons and their function in cognitively understood empathy. Consciousness and Cognition. 22, 1152–1161.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Image Credit: Dartmouth College

Distinct information about familiar faces is encoded in a neural code that is shared across brains, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A new study conducted in adults with a history of childhood maltreatment showed that two groups – those with a history of sexual abuse and those with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – had reduced brain connectivity in the attention systems known as the ventral and dorsal attention network (VAN-DAN).

New findings reveals dopamine neurons that play a role in learning and memory also drive motivation.

For the first time, researchers have used human data to quantify the speed of different processes that lead to Alzheimer’s disease and found that it develops in a very different way than previously thought. Their results could have important implications for the development of potential treatments.

Musical therapy can help to improve fine motor skills in patients with Parkinson’s disease according to new research. 

A genetic predisposition for depression combined with exposure to high-particulate-matter air pollution greatly elevates the risk that healthy people will experience depression, according to a first-of-its-kind study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences (PNAS).

Recently published research found people who continued to spend a higher amount of time sitting between April and June 2020 were likely to have higher symptoms of depression.

A new study, published in the International Journal of MS Care, found that the vibration training improved not only physical symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis, such as increased walking speeds, but also cognitive functions, such as memory capacity and executive function.

A newly developed AI algorithm can directly predict eye position and movement during an MRI scan. The technology could provide new diagnostics for neurological disorders that manifest in changes in eye-movement patterns.

A team of researchers has found a possible connection between depression and anxiety for IBD patients and the vascular barrier in the brain choroid plexus closing. In their paper published in the journal Science, the group describes their study of the gut-brain axis response to inflammation and its link to psychiatric illnesses.

Researchers have created the first body map of sensations experienced during hallucinations in people experiencing psychosis.

Recent resarch reveals the severity of PTSD symptoms was associated with fewer risky choices and increased activation of the amygdala. Decreased activity in the ventral striatum, an area of the brain associated with processing positive valence such as reward, predicted more severe PTSD symptoms 14 months post-trauma.

Finally this week, people who consume a diet containing anti-inflammatory foods, including fruits, vegetables, and coffee, are less likely to develop dementia as they age, a new study reports.

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Researchers have investigated why many of us wake in the middle of the night and dwell on our fears.

In response to gut inflammation, such as that caused by inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the vascular barrier in the brain choroid plexus closes, locking down access to the brain, according to a new study.

A multiyear study of older adults found that both short and long sleepers experienced greater cognitive decline than people who slept a moderate amount, even when the effects of early Alzheimer’s disease were taken into account.

A brain circuit that works as a “brake” on binge alcohol drinking may help explain male-female differences in vulnerability to alcohol use disorders, according to a preclinical study led by scientists at Weill Cornell Medicine.

The Mediterranean diet does not only have beneficial effects for the cardiovascular health of those who follow it, but it can allow them to improve their memory and prevent or delay the effects of cognitive deterioration connected to aging. 

People with higher levels of anxiety have altered perceptions of their breathing compared to those with lower levels of anxiety. The altered perception of respiration can lead to an increase in feelings of anxiety, researchers report.

Finally this week researchers reveal the neurobiological basis of why we often find it more difficult to find the right words as we age.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Exposure to toxoplasma, a disease carried by cats, may increase the likelihood of developing psychosis in young people already at risk, a new study has found.

The development of drugs to treat cognitive problems in patients with mental illness may be a step closer after a team of researchers discovered that an existing drug—used to treat constipation—may be able to boost our ability to think more clearly.

The way a person’s brain responds to stress following a traumatic event, such as a car accident, may help to predict their long-term mental health outcomes, according to new research.

Researchers have identified how specific neurons in the cuneate nucleus help filter distracting information to coordinate dexterous movements. The findings have implications for the development of new prosthetics and robotic equipment that can fine-tune movement based on the sense of touch.

A new study has found structural differences in the prefrontal cortex and brain areas associated with empathy and cognitive control, between siblings where one displayed antisocial behaviors and the other did not.

It remains a central challenge in psychiatry to reliably judge whether a patient will respond to treatment. In a new study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, researchers from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Germany show that moment-to-moment fluctuations in brain activity can reliably predict whether patients with social anxiety disorder will be receptive to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Researchers have identified a brain rhythm associated with emotional conflict that appears to be a biomarker for anxiety disorder.

Finally this week, people with elevated blood pressure that falls within the normal recommended range are at risk of accelerated brain ageing, according to new research. The research also found optimal blood pressure helps our brains stay at least six months younger than our actual age. 

 

Mental Health Requires Courage #WorldMentalHealthDay

He who increases knowledge, increases sorrow but who wants to live a life of ignorance?

The key to a happy life

The key to a happy life is the ability to transcend personal suffering, find a balance, and recognise that the world has problems. This requires mental effort and those of us who strive to better understand ourselves in the world come out the other side as a new person, with some peace of mind and a way to live.

Fundamental or accidental?

A limit to understanding ourselves in the world is the fact that we do not know that some of the things we perceive to be truly fundamental today may actually be just accidental. For instance, the brain uses systematic patterns of thought to produce philosophy including science, mathematics, literature, ideas and beliefs including a belief in a deity to guide us towards new insights. What we need to understand is that none of these may be fundamental in themselves. They are just tools that our ancestors used to probe the unknown and to see what is possible – knowing that what is common for us is just a tiny sliver of what actually exists.

Accidental fundamentalism is often mistaken for truth

In the West we have made the truth our highest value. This motivation while important is weak compared to the actual power of belief. We are born into a culture which often insists on a particular religious or ideological philosophy as fact and the only way to understand ourselves in the world, but adhering to this belief may cause personal suffering by impeding insights necessary to achieve peace of mind. Resisting enculturation is the highest expression of human psychological development and is a hallmark of what is called in psychology as the fully self-actualised person.

Recasting reality

Self-actualisers reject accepted cultural ‘truths’ and see beyond the confines of an era to achieve a clearer perception of reality. A further subtle difference sets these people apart. Most of us see life as striving to get this or that – whether it be material things or having a family or doing well career wise. Self-actualizers in contrast do not strive as much as develop. They are only ambitious to the extent in being able to express themselves more fully and perfectly, delighting in what they are able to do. Another general point is their profound freedom of mind. In contrast to the conforming pressures around them self-actualizers are a walking example of free will.

Mental health requires courage

In this way happiness can be described as personal autonomy. The independence of mind to explore and choose the best skills and tools needed to achieve personal insight. Where you are no longer beholden to culture, creed or religion and without any attendant guilt or fear in abandoning old ways in order to try new ones as you evolve to become the master of your own fate.

What to believe?

Mental health is two things:(i) being in touch with reality and (ii) being open to new experiences. But here’s the thing – there is no reality only perception.

Understand that the world is not necessarily as you perceive it. Everyone has filters and only by acknowledging them can you begin to get a clearer picture. Even in a close relationship the same simple act can be viewed differently. A man will see paying all the bills as his duty while his wife will see it as an act of love. Appreciate that your views might be prejudices.

Most importantly make sure that the perceptions you do retain or adopt are grounded in verifiable fact and can be tested. Otherwise any actions you take based on your beliefs will be on shaky ground.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

With normal (top) and reduced SLK expression (bottom). Without SLK, dendrites branch less; moreover, the number of inhibitory synapses (green) decreases. Credit: Institut für Neuropathologie/Uni Bonn

Researchers have shed light on the function of the enzyme SLK for the development of nerve cells in the brain. Lack of the SLK protein results in less abundant dendrites. As a lack of SLK is apparent in many patients with epilepsy, the findings could pave the way for new treatments for those suffering from the neurological disorder.

Adults who experienced traumatic events, including abuse and household dysfunction, as children had an increased risk of developing neurological conditions later in life.

Researchers have designed new antibodies that might provide more effective treatment methods for Alzheimer’s disease. By designing antibodies that bind even to the smaller aggregates, or clumps, of the amyloid-beta protein, it may be possible to check the progress of the disease.

A new study traces the mechanisms that link environmental signals and our circadian clocks.

Adolescents can speed their recovery after a sport-related concussion and reduce their risk of experiencing protracted recovery if they engage in aerobic exercise within 10 days of getting injured, according to a new study.

A new study reports a reduction of atmospheric fine particulates and better air quality can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

A team of researchers has partially solved the mystery of why some people are less naturally resistant to COVID-19 than others. In their paper published in the journal Science, the group describes their study of the interferon system and the role it plays in combating the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Finally this week, researchers have identified a brain rhythm associated with emotional conflict that appears to be a biomarker for anxiety disorder.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Bacterial curli promotes the aggregation of α-synuclein through cross-seeding, which leads to mitochondrial stress and neurodegeneration. Credit: The University of Hong Kong

Growing evidence indicates that gut microbiota plays a critical role in regulating the progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease (PD) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD), but the molecular mechanism underlying such microbe-host interaction is still unclear. Now a research team at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) has discovered that bacteria-derived curli amyloid fibril promotes neurodegeneration in the host. This new study provides direct evidence to suggest that bacteria can secrete proteins that form an amyloid fibril, which enters the host neurons and promotes protein aggregation and neurodegeneration. Inhibiting the ability of the bacteria to secrete such proteins may be a preventative treatment for neurodegenerative diseases. 

Unusual visual inspection of objects by infants 9 months of age and older is predictive of a later diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), new research has found.

A team of scientists recently published intriguing research on a tiny, splinter-like brain implant that doctors can slide deep into the folds of the brain and use to restore both muscular control over and sensation from a paralysis patient’s limbs.

A new study has found a new way to look at brain networks using the mathematical notion of fractals, to convey communication patterns between different brain regions as people listened to a short story. 

An experimental gene therapy that involves injecting CRISPR therapy directly into visually impaired patients’ eyeballs has vastly improved most volunteers’ vision — even allowing some to see color more vividly than ever before.

Preliminary new findings are raising concerns about the long-term effect of mild COVID-19 infection on neurological health and cognition.

Use of menopausal hormone therapy (MHT, also known as hormone replacement therapy, HRT) is not associated with an increased risk of developing dementia, regardless of hormone type, dose, or duration, concludes a large UK study.

Recent research provides empirical evidence to show the brain’s predictive ability forms the basis for musical phrasing.

Memories of past events and experiences are what define us as who we are, and yet the ability to form these episodic memories declines with age, certain dementias, and brain injury. However, a new study shows that low frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation—or rTMS—delivered over the left prefrontal cortex of the brain can improve memory performance by reducing the power of low frequency brain waves as memories form.

Finally this week, a new brain imaging study shows that the hippocampus is the brain’s storyteller, connecting separate, distant events into a single narrative.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Microglial cells – (blue: the cell nuclei) can join together using tubular projections (red) to degrade dangerous proteins in a division of labor. Credit: AG Heneka/University of Bonn

To break down toxic proteins more quickly, immune cells in the brain can join together to form networks when needed. However, certain mutations associated with Parkinson’s disease can impair this process.

New work shows that neurons and other brain cells use DNA double-strand breaks, often associated with cancer, neurodegeneration and aging, to quickly express genes related to learning and memory.

New research has identified specific drug targets within the neural circuits that encode memories, paving the way for significant advances in the treatment of a broad spectrum of brain disorders.

Pioneering research shows that dopamine levels increase in response to stressful stimuli, and not just pleasurable ones, potentially rewriting facts about the “feel-good” hormone—a critical mediator of many psychiatric diseases. This discovery is cause to rethink treatment for psychiatric disease and addiction.

A new study links viral infections including mononucleosis and pneumonia experienced during adolescence with an increased risk of developing multiple sclerosis.

Researchers have discovered a new gene therapy pathway that has uncovered an important regulatory mechanism to keep our genome healthy. This pathway has the potential to protect us against serious life-limiting diseases such as cancer and dementia.

Neuroscientists have discovered specific types of neurons within the memory center of the brain that are responsible for acquiring new associative memories.

Amyloid protein made in the liver can cause neurodegeneration in the brain, according to a new study in the open-access journal PLOS Biology. Since the protein is thought to be a key contributor to development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the results suggest that the liver may play an important role in the onset or progression of the disease.

Higher glucose levels detected by a two-hour glucose test were an accurate predictor of poorer performance in tests of episodic memory ten years later, according to new research

A worsening cardiovascular profile after menopause may contribute to the fact that women are disproportionately affected by dementia. A new study identified a link between cardiovascular fat volume and radiodensity and cognitive function, as well as racial differences in this association.

Finally this week, a new study finds dopamine increases responses to stressful stimuli, not just pleasurable ones. The findings could have implications for the treatment of mental health disorders and addiction.

 

The Neuroscience of Change

Significant change can be stressful.

It challenges our ability to cope and drains our resilience.

With change comes a new set of challenges including how to take advantage of the change scenario and assert an element of control by managing our emotions.

I was invited to give a talk to staff of the British Embassy in Ireland on the topic of the neuroscience of change.

You can view a slide summary of my talk below.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

New research reveals that neurons in the visual cortex—the part of the brain that processes visual stimuli—change their responses to the same stimulus over time.

Menopause can mess with your memory, and a new study has identified four profiles of cognitive function that may help researchers understand why memory declines for some women and not others. This adds to the mounting evidence of the memory changes that can happen when menopause approaches and could lead to better guidance and treatment for patients experiencing memory issues.

Testing for some inflammatory proteins associated with the nervous and immune systems will help diagnose the earlier onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a Rutgers study.

Researchers have recently carried out a study investigating the role of the X-chromosome on human brain anatomy. Their findings, published in a paper in Nature Neuroscience, highlight the key role of the X-chromosome in human neurodevelopment.

A new study explores a new non-dopamine reward circuitry in the brain.

An analysis of data from 1.5 million people has identified 579 locations in the genome associated with a predisposition to different behaviors and disorders related to self-regulation, including addiction and child behavioral problems.

Virtual reality helps to relieve pain and anxiety for children undergoing medical procedures, researchers report.

Scientists have long suspected that religiosity and spirituality could be mapped to specific brain circuits, but the location of those circuits remains unknown. Now, a new study using novel technology and the human connectome, a map of neural connections, has identified a brain circuit that seems to mediate that aspect of our personality.

Finally this week, researchers reveal the neurobiological basis of why we often find it more difficult to find the right words as we age.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Two new research studies have identified the neural signals underlying music imagery. These neural signals are related to melodic expectations and predictions.

Short naps of up to 60 minutes in duration do not mitigate the effects of a night of sleep deprivation, a new study reports. However, the amount of slow-wave sleep achieved during a nap was related to reduced impairments associated with sleep deprivation.

30% of people reported changes in cognition, memory, and problems with information processing as a result of social isolation caused by pandemic lockdowns.

Some proteins in cells can separate into small droplets like oil droplets in water, but faults in this process may underlie neurodegenerative diseases in the brains of older people. Now, Rutgers researchers have developed a new method to quantify protein droplets involved in these diseases.

A new study reveals how dopamine may have a central role in maintaining our consciousness.

It’s long been known that opioid overdose deaths are caused by disrupted breathing, but the actual mechanism by which these drugs suppress respiration was not understood. Now, a new study by Salk scientists has identified a group of neurons in the brainstem that plays a key role in this process.

A new advanced imaging technique shows how cholesterol regulates the production of Alzheimer’s associated amyloid beta proteins in astrocytes.

A recent experimental study shows how regular physical exercise modulates iron metabolism in both the brain and the muscles. The findings also help to better understand the benefits of exercise in Alzheimer’s disease.

A new AI model can accurately classify a brain tumor of one of six common cancer types from a single MRI brain scan image.

A tiny region in the middle of the brain plays a far more important role than previously known in helping it respond to changes in the environment, a new study shows.

The brain’s white matter pathway organization during the first year of life may predict language acquisition and development at age five, researchers say.

Finally this week, mindfulness may provide modest benefits to cognition, particularly among older adults, finds a new review of evidence.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

An area (red-yellow) in the brain’s temporal pole specializes in familiar face recognition. Credit: Sofia Landi

New research reveals a class of neurons in the brain’s temporal pole region that links face perception to long-term memory. It’s not quite the apocryphal grandmother neuron — rather than a single cell, it’s a population of cells that collectively remembers grandma’s face. The findings, published in Science, are the first to explain how our brains inculcate the faces of those we hold dear.

Researchers have discovered a previously unknown repair process in the brain that they hope could be harnessed and enhanced to treat seizure-related brain injuries.

A new study demonstrates that puppets can attract and hold the attention of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), raising the potential for developing more engaging therapies that strengthen social engagement and facilitate learning.

Artificial neural networks is helping researchers uncover new clues as to why people on the autism spectrum have trouble interpreting facial expressions.

Researchers have revealed how proteins accumulate in the incorrect parts of brain cells in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and demonstrate how it may be possible to reverse the accumulation. ALS, more commonly known as motor neuron disease, is a progressive fatal disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control, with patients become increasingly paralyzed and losing the ability to speak, eat and breathe. 

Combining artificial intelligence, mathematical modeling, and brain imaging data, researchers have shed light on the neural processes that occur when people use mental abstraction.

A team of scientists has uncovered a system in the brain used in the processing of information and in the storing of memories—akin to how railroad switches control a train’s destination. The findings offer new insights into how the brain functions.

Finally this week, researchers have developed a powerful miniature brain platform to study the mechanistic causes of Alzheimer’s disease and to test dementia drugs in development.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

New research shows dancing to music may halt progression of Parkinson’s disease.

A new systematic review reports that individuals with more than five symptoms during the first week of a SARS-CoV-2 infection were at increased risk of developing persistent symptoms or long COVID.

Psychologists have advanced a new theory linking neurotic unhappiness and creativity, arguing that natural worriers may also have highly active imaginations and be more creative problem-solvers.

People who practice meditation often report feeling “pure awareness” in which they say they experience consciousness itself. The state encompasses specific sensations and non-specific feelings, thoughts, and perceptions. Researchers say their findings will help explain “pure consciousness,” and work to generate a prototypical minimal model for human conscious perception.

A recent study has reveals how the brain processes information about the natural environment and generates an aesthetic appreciation.

Researchers have found longer gestational age was significantly associated with better performance in tests of math, languages, social studies, and science at age nine. Children born at 41 weeks performed better in all areas, especially mathematics.

A newly developed questionnaire can detect autism in children between the ages of 18 to 30 months.

College students who experienced a high level of adversity in childhood have lower levels of social support, such as having someone to confide in, ask for advice or go to for emotional support. When students lack these supportive relationships, they are at an increased risk of experiencing depression and anxiety.

In a world first, US researchers have developed a neuroprosthetic device that successfully translated the brain waves of a paralyzed man into complete sentences

A new wearable brain-machine interface (BMI) system could improve the quality of life for people with motor dysfunction or paralysis, even those struggling with locked-in syndrome — when a person is fully conscious but unable to move or communicate.

Finally this week, participation in elite adult rugby may be associated with changes in brain structure. This is the finding of a study of 44 elite rugby players, almost half of whom had recently sustained a mild head injury while playing.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

When perceiving rhythm, the brain makes two separate decisions based on grouping and prominence. The groupings mutually inform each other to generate an overall rhythmic perception.

Face pareidolia, a phenomenon where the brain is tricked into seeing human faces in inanimate objects, may occur as a result of the brain processing the perceived facial expression in the same sequential way it perceives a human face. Neuroscientists at the University of Sydney now say how our brains identify and analyse real human faces is conducted by the same cognitive processes that identify illusory faces.

Researchers have identified a novel population of neurons in the temporal pole that links facial perception to long-term memory.

Adults with ADHD are at higher risk of a wide range of physical conditions, including nervous system, respiratory, musculoskeletal, and metabolic diseases, according to a large register-based study from Karolinska Institutet published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

A new study reveals very young infants can perceive objects that older infants, children, and adults can not see due to a phenomenon called visual backward masking.

Infant boys with a gut bacterial composition high in Bacteroidetes were found in a new study to have more advanced cognitive and language skills one year later compared to boys with lower levels of the bacteria. The finding was specific to male children.

Brain cells snap DNA in more places and in more cell types than previously realized in order to express genes for learning and memory.

Researchers have found that a component derived from turmeric essential oil, aromatic turmerone (ar-turmerone), and its derivatives act directly on dopaminergic nerves to create a neuroprotective effect on tissue cultures of a Parkinson’s disease model.

New research shows daydreaming and mind-wandering appear to occur when parts of the brain fall asleep while other areas remain awake.

Finally this week, a diet rich in fermented foods enhances the diversity of gut microbes and decreases molecular signs of inflammation, according to researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Children who are physically active have higher cognitive function and increased functional connectivity in the brain later in life than those who are less active, a new study reports.

Canadian researchers have built and validated an online calculator that empowers individuals 55 and over to better understand the health of their brain and how they can reduce their risk of being diagnosed with dementia in the next five years. Their process was published today in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, and the calculator is available at projectbiglife.ca.

Researchers studying prions–misfolded proteins that cause lethal incurable diseases–have identified for the first time surface features of human prions responsible for their replication in the brain.

Middle-aged people with depressive symptoms who carry a genetic variation called apolipoprotein (APOE) ε4 may be more at risk to develop tau protein accumulations in the brain’s emotion- and memory-controlling regions, a new study suggests.

Frequent strenuous exercise increases the risk of developing motor neuron disease (MND)/ALS in certain people, new research has found.

Combining brain scans with AI technology, researchers were able to accurately predict the likelihood of a person developing schizophrenia in those with a family history of the psychiatric disorder.

A new study reveals very young infants can perceive objects that older infants, children, and adults can not see due to a phenomenon called visual backward masking.

Subtle changes in fractal motor activity regulation in cognitively healthy women may be a sign of preclinical Alzheimer’s disease, researchers report.

Deep brain stimulation appears to be safe, effective, and provides symptom improvements for at least one year in patients with treatment-resistant schizophrenia.

New research details the interplay between proteins involved in controlling the body’s stress response and points to potential therapeutic targets when this response goes awry.

A new research paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition last week showed that a low Omega-3 Index is just as powerful in predicting early death as smoking.

Finally this week, a new study sheds light on how migraines may occur and why those who are susceptible to migraines see improvements in symptoms as they age.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Around 4000 nerve fibres connect to this single neuron
Google/Lichtman Laboratory

Google has helped create the most detailed map yet of the connections within the human brain. It reveals a staggering amount of detail, including patterns of connections between neurons, as well as what may be a new kind of neuron.

Researchers have identified three biomarkers in blood samples that confirm the link between exercise and improved cognitive function in older adults.

A new study reveals what goes on in the brain when a person embarks on a musical collaboration project.

Chronic inflammation in the gut may propel processes in the body that give rise to Parkinson’s disease, according to new research.

The largest study of its kind has unveiled new insights into how genes are regulated in dementia, including discovering 84 new genes linked to the disease.

A new study shows that a deep neural network model can accurately predict the brain age of healthy patients based on electroencephalogram data recorded during an overnight sleep study, and EEG-predicted brain age indices display unique characteristics within populations with different diseases.

Finally this week, scientists have identified an area of the brain that drives cravings for protein-rich food.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

The place-memory network of the human brain, compared with the brain areas that process visual scenes (white). Credit: A.Steel et al.

Researchers have identified three areas of the posterior cerebral cortex that bridge the brain’s perception and memory systems.

A new study reveals that being overweight or obese significantly reduces blood flow in the brain. The study also shows that increased physical activity can positively modify, or even negate, this reduction in brain blood flow.

Soccer players who feel anxious at the thought of kicking a penalty kick and who miss the goal show more activity in the prefrontal cortex. Overthinking the shot, researchers say, could play a role in missing a goal.

Non-invasive neuromodulation delivered via low-intensity focused ultrasound can have cell-type-specific selectivity in manipulating neurons.

People born into families with members who live longer lives show better cognitive performance and a slower decline in cognitive processing speed as they age.

A new neuroimaging technique captures the brain in motion in real-time, generating a 3D view and with improved detail. The new technology could help clinicians to spot hard-to-detect neurological conditions.

Researchers found in a recent study that modulation of map-like representations in our brain’s hippocampal formation can predict contextual memory retrieval in an ambiguous environment.

A new study reports on an association between specific gut bacteria species and the manifestation of neurodegenerative disorders.

New research reveals why sleep can put people with epilepsy at increased risk of sudden death.

A new study uncovers the genetic architecture of progression and prognosis, identifying five genetic locations (loci) associated with progression. The team also developed the first risk score for predicting progression of PD over time to dementia (PDD), a major determinant of quality of life.

A newly developed artificial intelligence algorithm can accurately and reliably assess unconsciousness in patients under anesthesia based on brain activity.

Damage to highly connected regions of white matter in the brain following injury is more predictive of cognitive impairment than damage to highly connected gray matter hubs.

The cerebellum underwent evolutionary changes that may have contributed to the development of language, culture, and tool use in humans, a new study reveals.

A new study sheds light on how highly sensitive people process information. After experiencing something emotionally evocative, brain activity displayed a depth of processing while at rest. Depth of processing is a key feature of high emotional sensitivity.

Researchers have uncovered molecular clues that help explain what makes some neurons more susceptible than others in Alzheimer’s disease.

Finally this week tking a daily prebiotic supplement improves general wellbeing, reduces symptoms of anxiety, and promotes better gut health, a new study reports.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

A new algorithm that combines naturalistic driving data with machine learning is 88% accurate at predicting mild cognitive impairment and dementia in older adults.

People with schizophrenia and other neuropsychiatric disorders may have a more permissive blood-brain barrier which allows the immune system to become more actively involved in the central nervous system. The resulting inflammation may contribute to the clinical manifestation of psychosis-like symptoms.

Mindfulness programs can improve the mental health of school-age children and help them to feel more optimistic, according to new research.

A new study finds evidence of inflammation in the blood of patients during the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. The findings support the theory that inflammation is a driver of the neurodegenerative disorder. The effect was most noticeable in women with Parkinson’s.

Taking a daily prebiotic supplement improves general wellbeing, reduces symptoms of anxiety, and promotes better gut health, a new study reports.

Researchers propose a new theory of what happens in the brain when we experience familiar seeming visual stimuli. The theory, dubbed sensory referenced suppression, suggests the brain understands different levels of activation expected for sensory input and corrects for it, leaving behind the signal for familiarity.

A new study shows that heart brain interactions, measured using electroencephalography (EEG), provide a novel diagnostic avenue for patients with disorders of consciousness.

A multidecade study of young adults living in the United Kingdom has found higher rates of mental illness symptoms among those exposed to higher levels of traffic-related air pollutants, particularly nitrogen oxides, during childhood and adolescence.

The brain encodes information about our relationships and the relationships between our friends using areas involved in spatial processing, according to new research published in Journal of Neuroscience.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Researchers have taken another step forward in developing an artificial intelligence tool to predict schizophrenia by analyzing brain scans.

COVID-19 may not directly infect the brain, but the virus is still capable of causing significant neurological damage, a new study reports. Researchers say the neurological changes seen as a result of coronavirus infection are likely related to inflammation triggered by viral infection in different parts of the body or the brain’s blood vessels.

Stroke risk for patients with traumatic brain injuries is at its highest in the four months following injury and remains significant for up to five years post-injury, finds a new systematic review.

A new blood test can distinguish the severity of a person’s depression and their risk for developing severe depression at a later point. The test can also determine if a person is at risk for developing bipolar disorder. Researchers say the blood test can also assist in tailoring individual options for therapeutic interventions.

Light therapy which consists of exposure to both controlled natural light and artificial lighting may be a new tool in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Researchers link the inflammation associated with chronic sinus infections to alterations in brain activity in networks that govern cognition, external stimuli, and introspection. The findings shed light on why people suffering from sinus infections often report poor concentration and other short-term cognitive problems.

A new study recently published in eNeuro lays the groundwork for more detailed research on how humans hear in dynamic environments.

When people make eye contact with another person, their attention is immediately solicited and this causes a distortion in temporal perception. However, the shift in time perception does not change when people glance at non-social items or objects according to new research.

Sharing our personal experiences on social media may negatively impact how we feel about our memories, especially if the post doesn’t get many likes, a new study reports.

New research has shed light on how autism-spectrum disorder (ASD) manifests in the brains of girls, prompting the scientists to warn that conclusions drawn from studies conducted primarily in boys should not be assumed to hold true for girls.

Finally this week, a shared set of systems in the brain may play an important role in controlling the retrieval of facts and personal memories utilised in everyday life, new research shows.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

 

Communication between the brain’s auditory and reward circuits is the reason why humans find music rewarding, according to new research published in Journal of Neuroscience.

Multilingual people have trained their brains to learn languages, making it easier to acquire more new languages after mastering a second or third. In addition to demystifying the seemingly herculean genius of multilinguals, researchers say these results provide some of the first neuroscientific evidence that language skills are additive, a theory known as the cumulative-enhancement model of language acquisition.

A new whole-genome sequencing study has revealed thirteen novel genes associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers also found a new link between Alzheimer’s and synaptic function.

For people with Parkinson’s disease, problems with thinking and memory skills are among the most common nonmotor symptoms of the disease. A new study shows that exercise may help slow cognitive decline for some people with the disease.

Computer scientists have created a ground-breaking model that could improve our understanding of developmental disorders such as autism.

Researchers have succeeded for the first time in measuring brain waves directly via a cochlear implant. These brainwaves indicate in an objective way how good or bad a person’s hearing is. The research results are important for the further development of smart hearing aids.

New research suggests that chronic viral infections have a profound and lasting impact on the human immune system in ways that are similar to those seen during aging.

A study of Japanese university students and recent graduates has revealed that writing on physical paper can lead to more brain activity when remembering the information an hour later. Researchers say that the unique, complex, spatial and tactile information associated with writing by hand on physical paper is likely what leads to improved memory.

Finally this week, a new study confirms that the processing of visual information is altered in depressed people, a phenomenon most likely linked with the processing of information in the cerebral cortex.

 

 

 

 

Using Your Brain To Improve Your Own Mental Health

He who increases knowledge, increases sorrow but who wants to live a life of ignorance?

The key to a happy life

The key to a happy life is the ability to transcend personal suffering, find a balance, and recognise that the world has problems. This requires mental effort and those of us who strive to better understand ourselves in the world come out the other side as a new person, with some peace of mind and a way to live.

Fundamental or accidental?

A limit to understanding ourselves in the world is the fact that we do not know that some of the things we perceive to be truly fundamental today may actually be just accidental. For instance, the brain uses systematic patterns of thought to produce philosophy including science, mathematics, literature, ideas and beliefs including a belief in a deity to guide us towards new insights. What we need to understand is that none of these may be fundamental in themselves. They are just tools that our ancestors used to probe the unknown and to see what is possible – knowing that what is common for us is just a tiny sliver of what actually exists.

Accidental fundamentalism is often mistaken for truth

In the West we have made the truth our highest value. This motivation while important is weak compared to the actual power of belief. We are born into a culture which often insists on a particular religious or ideological philosophy as fact and the only way to understand ourselves in the world, but adhering to this belief may cause personal suffering by impeding insights necessary to achieve peace of mind. Resisting enculturation is the highest expression of human psychological development and is a hallmark of what is called in psychology as the fully self-actualised person.

Recasting reality

Self-actualisers reject accepted cultural ‘truths’ and see beyond the confines of an era to achieve a clearer perception of reality. A further subtle difference sets these people apart. Most of us see life as striving to get this or that – whether it be material things or having a family or doing well career wise. Self-actualizers in contrast do not strive as much as develop. They are only ambitious to the extent in being able to express themselves more fully and perfectly, delighting in what they are able to do. Another general point is their profound freedom of mind. In contrast to the conforming pressures around them self-actualizers are a walking example of free will.

Mental health requires courage

In this way happiness can be described as personal autonomy. The independence of mind to explore and choose the best skills and tools needed to achieve personal insight. Where you are no longer beholden to culture, creed or religion and without any attendant guilt or fear in abandoning old ways in order to try new ones as you evolve to become the master of your own fate.

What to believe?

Mental health is two things:(i) being in touch with reality and (ii) being open to new experiences. But here’s the thing – there is no reality only perception. Understand that the world is not necessarily as you perceive it. Everyone has filters and only by acknowledging them can you begin to get a clearer picture. Even in a close relationship the same simple act can be viewed differently. A man will see paying all the bills as his duty while his wife will see it as an act of love. Appreciate that your views might be prejudices. Most importantly make sure that the perceptions you do retain or adopt are grounded in verifiable fact and can be tested. Otherwise any actions you take based on your beliefs will be on shaky ground.

As part of the Limerick Lifelong Learning Festival 2021 I will give a public talk on Thursday, May 27th @ 4pm entitled: What to believe? The brain and the nature of truth in a post-COVID world. In this talk you will learn how the brain provides insights, values and priorities in informing the mind as to what it believes to be true, and how you can use this information to improve your own mental health

Click here to register via Eventbrite https://bit.ly/3ffa2LQ 

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International Day of Happiness

Today has been designated International Day of Happiness. I’d like to take the opportunity to share again a video that I shared several years ago on some simple but profound changes we can make to create a happier 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. I

n 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

Illustration of a hand action in typically developed individuals and a foot action in individuals with dysplasia. A network in frontal and parietal areas, shown in yellow-orange, prefer a specific action type, regardless of the acting body part. Credit: Yuqi Liu, PhD

 

A new study of reaching and grasping with hand or food reveals novel brain insights. 

Researchers have discovered a new mechanism by which clumps of tau protein are created in the brain, killing brain cells and causing Alzheimer’s disease.

New research reveals a single brain region links depression and anxiety, heart disease and treatment sensitivity. 

A Danish study shows that people doing hard physical work have a 55-percent higher risk of developing dementia than those doing sedentary work.

A new theory suggests electromagnetic energy in the brain enables neurons and brain regions to create consciousness and our ability to critically think.

Brain cell dysfunction in low oxygen is, caused by the very same responder system that is intended to be protective, according to a new published study.

A new study reveals a correlation between multimedia multitasking, memory loss, and difficulties in maintaining attention.

A recent study reveals how gene control mechanisms define the identity of developing neurons in the brainstem. The researchers also showed that a failure in differentiation of the brainstem neurons leads to behavioural abnormalities, including hyperactivity and attention deficit.

The decline of striosomal activity in the brain may explain why people lose the motivation to learn as they age.

Finally this week, researchers have shown how a genetic mutation throws off the timing of the biological clock, causing a common sleep syndrome called delayed sleep phase disorder.

 

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

 

A new study reveals a new role for serotonin in the development of the human neocortex.

When the brain forms a memory of a new experience, neurons called engram cells encode the details of the memory and are later reactivated whenever we recall it. A new study reveals that this process is controlled by large-scale remodeling of cells’ chromatin.

Increasing time spent sleeping immediately following a traumatic event can help to significantly reduce the effects of trauma.

Brain cell dysfunction in low oxygen is, surprisingly, caused by the very same responder system that is intended to be protective, according to a new published study.

A new study reveals a new role for serotonin in the development of the human neocortex.

DNA variation in a gene called ROBO1 is associated with early anatomical differences in a brain region that plays a key role in quantity representation, potentially explaining how genetic variability might shape mathematical performance in children, according to new research.

Early childhood trauma has an impact on glucose metabolism and blood composition, which are passed on to the next generation.

Brain cell dysfunction in low oxygen is, surprisingly, caused by the very same responder system that is intended to be protective, according to a new published study.

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

 

A new study reveals a high fructose diet could contribute to bipolar disorder, ADHD, and behavioral aggression.

In Alzheimer’s disease, impaired blood flow to brain regions coincides with tau protein buildup. This relationship strengthens as cognition declines, according to new research published in Journal of Neuroscience.

A new lab test can accurately pinpoint and analyze the deadliest cells in the most common and aggressive brain cancer in adults.

A greater density of cells in a key reward center of the brain is associated with obesity in children and predicts future weight gain, a new study finds.

A team of researchers has found that an amino acid produced by the brain could play a crucial role in preventing a type of epileptic seizure.

The characteristics of language structure and writing system may explain why some bilingual people are dyslexic in English, but not in their other proficient language.

Finally this week,  a study of four drugs to combat chronic neuropathic pain finds Nortriptyline has the highest efficacious percentage and lowest quit rate.

 

How To “Vaccinate” Yourself Against Depression #WorldMentalHealthDay

world-mental-health-day-10th-october-2016 (1)

Today is World Mental Health Day, which is observed on 10 October every year, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health.

Depression is very common – it is estimated that at least one in five people in Ireland will develop depression during their lifetime. Depression is not to be confused with the normal ups and downs of everyday life. Everyone can feel a bit ‘down’ from time to time as a reaction to an upsetting event, but will start to feel better after a few days or weeks. It is a natural, short-lived response to stressful times in life.

However, some people are unable to escape this low mood, and find it difficult to carry on with life as usual. They may experience low/sad, irritable or indifferent mood, loss of interest and enjoyment in daily life and a general lack of energy. This may be often accompanied by some or all of the following physical symptoms, fatigue and reduced activity, disturbed sleep or excessive sleep, changes in appetite and weight, loss of sex drive, unexplained aches and pains e.g. headache, backache and changes to the menstrual cycle.

Depression affects different people in different ways – not everyone has the same symptoms. Other symptoms include poor concentration or reduced attention, difficulty in making decisions, tearfulness, restlessness, agitation or anxiety, low self-confidence and self-esteem, feelings of guilt, inability to cope with life as before, avoiding other people, bleak view of the future, morbid thoughts, ideas of self-harm.

Treatment is available and recovery is possible.

Starting in the 1960’s neuroscientists regarded depression as a kind of ‘anaemia’ in the brain – a lack of three important neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline in key emotional regions in the brain. Antidepressant drugs were then developed to bring the levels of these neurotransmitters particularly serotonin back to normal. Prozac is a good example of this type of drug and it has proved to be a safe and effective life saver for many the depressed patient.

However, recently neuroscientists have had a radical change of mind with respect to the nature of depression. This change of view is partially due to evidence from brain imaging studies in depressed patients showing dramatic changes in nerve activity in the frontal lobe of the brain.

The importance of the frontal lobe in depression

Nervous activity in the frontal lobes forms our attitudes, plans and strategies and is at least in part under our own control.    This view advocates that depression is in fact a disorder of thinking – a sort of obsessional pessimism from which the depressed patient can see no way out and this is what causes the low neurotransmitter levels.

Wisconsin Study

The WISCONSIN STUDY adds another twist by showing that the brains of depressed individuals actually exhibit the same initial levels of activity in positive/pleasure-generating brain regions. Instead they found differences in the ability to sustain those positive emotions.

Findings from my own research group and others show that three important neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline play a key role in sustaining attention and motivation the brain. Thus low neurotransmitter levels may impair the ability to ‘embed’ these new thoughts and emotions leaving the depressed patient feeling like they are back at square one. This study lends support to notion that depression is best treated by psychological/behavioral treatments or in combination of drugs, not drugs alone.

Thus while antidepressants can help treat the chemical anaemia – good mental heath in particular careful monitoring of your everyday thoughts and attitudes will ensure that negative thoughts are nipped in the bud is also vital in the treatment and even the prevention of depression.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Researchers used diffusion tensor imaging, which indicates the directionality of water diffusion in the brain, to examine how white matter connections lose integrity. These frontostriatal tracts are shown moving anterior to posterior (green), left to right (red) and superior to inferior (blue). Image is credited to the researchers.

As the human brain ages, the neural circuits that allow its different parts to communicate with each other gradually wear down, even in healthy adults.

Genetic risk score for bipolar disorder is associated with an increased risk of developing bipolar symptoms. The genetic risk factor for schizophrenia is linked to an increased risk of those with depression developing psychosis.

A new study into the causes of sensorimotor impairments prevalent among autistic people could pave the way for better treatment and management in the future, say psychologists.

New research details how the complex set of molecular and fluid dynamics that comprise the glymphatic system – the brain’s unique process of waste removal – are synchronized with the master internal clock that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. 

Future technology may be able to monitor and modify the brain to produce enhanced team performance, while increasing the efficiency and accuracy of decisions.

Parkinson’s disease can be divided into two variants that start in different places in the body. For some, the neurodegenerative disease starts in the intestines and spreads to the brain. In others, the disease begins in the brain and spreads to the intestines and other organs.

New research released from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus proposes that Alzheimer’s disease may be driven by the overactivation of fructose made in the brain.

Anticholinergic medications, commonly used for conditions including allergies, high blood pressure, Parkinson’s disease, and motion sickness, have been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline and memory problems, especially in those with genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.

Finally this week, a new study links brain structure to color perceptual function. Microscopy revealed ‘hue maps,’ or color palettes, in the brain that are spectrally organized arrangements of hue responses.

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

 

A new study identifies the neural markers of beat synchronization in the brain and sheds light on how auditory perception and motor processes work together.

Current sleep patterns could help determine your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease as you age. People who experience more fragmented sleep and less non-REM slow-wave sleep are more likely to have increased levels of amyloid-beta.

An international research team reports that problems in spatial navigation can also be detected in people with a genetic risk for Alzheimer’s. 

A new study demonstrates that a technology developed at the University of Central Florida could serve as a more reliable clinically-based model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and a better screening tool for novel therapies than currently use preclinical models.

New long-term brain monitoring technologies that can continuously record brain activity could help improve the treatment and management of epilepsy.

Scientists have developed a new theory as to how hearing loss may cause dementia and believe that tackling this sensory impairment early may help to prevent the disease.

A new study compares adolescent siblings to determine the impact of early and frequent use of marijuana on cognitive function

Finally this week a new two-stage model seeks to answer a longstanding philosophical debate over whether consciousness is continuous or discrete. Findings suggest discrete consciousness is preceded by a long-lasting unconscious processing period.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

A newly designed baby jumpsuit that monitors motor development carries the possibility for assessing overall neurodevelopment in infants. It is now commonly accepted that the motor development of a young child is not independent of all other neurocognitive development. The strong innate drive of the child to move has emerged from a clear need: the child must move a lot to gain experience and learn from the surrounding environment. It is now commonly accepted that the motor development of a young child is not independent of all other neurocognitive development. The strong innate drive of the child to move has emerged from a clear need: the child must move a lot to gain experience and learn from the surrounding environment.

A new brain mapping study finds damage to one part of the brain changes connections between neurons across the entire brain.

A recent study, published in Neurology, shows that social isolation is linked to changes in brain structure and cognition – the mental process of acquiring knowledge – it even carries an increased risk of dementia in older adults.

Measuring the electrical activity of the retina in response to light stimulus could be a biomarker for ADHD and autism, researchers report.

A large international team of researchers has found 69 unique genetic variants linked to the ability to keep time to a beat. In their paper published in the journal Nature Human Behavior, the group describes their genetic study involving more than 600,000 volunteers.

Researchers have identified the exertion level where aerosol particle emission increases exponentially, offering an explanation as to why exercise intensity may be linked to the transmission of infections.

New research reports girls and boys show similar rates of concern for autism spectrum disorder and identifies several biases contributing to the inflated sex ratio for autism diagnosis. The findings could help with the early identification of girls on the autism spectrum.

Finally this week a new study has identified potential targets to develop a therapy that could prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

How To Learn Fast In Challenging Times

As part of this year’s Limerick Lifelong Learning Festival, I will be hosting an online session on optimal ways for the brain to learn in difficult times.

Advancements in brain science are revealing new perspectives on how the brain learns. This talk will describe optimal ways for the brain to learn and will provide you with the tools and techniques to help you develop your own learning toolkit.

All are welcome to attend.

Registration is free via Eventbrite