How Experience Shapes Your Brain #BrainAwarenessWeek

Early experiences affect the development of brain architecture, which provides the foundation for all future learning, behaviour, and health.

Brains are built over time, from the bottom up.

The basic architecture of the brain is constructed through a process that begins early in life and continues into adulthood.

Simpler circuits come first and more complex brain circuits build on them later.

Brain architecture is comprised of billions of connections between individual neurons across different areas of the brain.

These connections enable lightning-fast communication among neurons that specialise in different kinds of brain functions. The early years are the most active period for establishing neural connections, but new connections can form throughout life and unused connections continue to be pruned.

The interactions of genes and experience shape the developing brain.

Genes provide the basic blueprint, but experiences influence how or whether genes are expressed. Together, they shape the quality of brain architecture and establish either a sturdy or a fragile foundation for all of the learning, health, and behaviour that follow.

Although genes provide the blueprint for the formation of brain circuits, these circuits are reinforced by repeated use.

A major ingredient in this developmental process is the interaction between children and their parents and other caregivers in the family or community.

In the absence of responsive caregiving—or if responses are unreliable or inappropriate—the brain’s architecture does not form as expected, which can lead to disparities in learning and behavior.

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It is easier and less costly to form strong brain circuits during the early years than it is to intervene or “fix” them later.

Cognitive, emotional, and social capacities are inextricably intertwined throughout the life course.

The brain is a highly integrated organ and its multiple functions operate in coordination with one another. Emotional well-being and social competence provide a strong foundation for emerging cognitive abilities, and together they are the bricks and mortar of brain architecture.


Adapted from The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University

Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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NIH scientists present a new method for combining measures of brain activity (left) and glucose consumption (right) to study regional specialization and to better understand the effects of alcohol on the human brain.

Assessing the patterns of energy use and neuronal activity simultaneously in the human brain improves our understanding of how alcohol affects the brain, according to new research by scientists at the National Institutes of Health.

A new study reports teens with high levels of depression display poorer working memory in tests than those with low symptoms.

Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, moderate in nuts, fish and alcohol and low in meat and full-fat dairy is associated with better cognitive performance in middle age, according to researchers.

A team of researchers has identified, for the first time, the cell types, areas and biological processes in the brain that mediate the genetic risk of insomnia.

Scientists report EEG technology has the ability to study activity of areas deep inside the brain, such as the thalamus and nucleus accumbens. The findings will help shed new light on disorders that affect these brain regions, such as Parkinson’s disease and OCD.

Researchers have identified a pathway near the midbrain where neural messages for taste and pain converge, a new study reports.

A new study reveals how blood vessels help protect the brain during inflammation. The findings could help in the development of new treatments for neurodegenerative and autoimmune diseases.

Choosing to forget something might take more mental effort than trying to remember it, scientists have discovered through neuroimaging.

According to researchers, keeping both physically and mentally active during middle age can significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia during old age. The study found women who participated in mental activities were 46% less likely to develop dementia, and those who were physically active at a 52% reduced risk.

Finally this week, a new study reveals women have higher activation in sensory areas of the brain associated with pain compared to males when witnessing another person suffering.

 

 

 

 

How Does Neurotransmission Work? #BrainAwarenessWeek

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How do brain cells communicate with one another to produce thoughts, feelings, and behavior?

They signal to one another using a process called neurotransmission.

But the transmission of these important chemical messages could not occur without unique cellular structures called receptors (a molecule in cells that serves as a docking station for another molecule).

Neurotransmission begins when one brain cell releases a neurochemical into the synapse (the space in between neurons.) But for a neighboring cell to “pick up” the message, that neurochemical must bind with one of its receptors.

When an electrical signal reaches the end of a neuron, it triggers the release of tiny sacs that had been inside the cells. Called vesicles, the sacs hold chemical messengers such as dopamine or serotonin.

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This drawing shows a synapse — the space between two cells. The chemical messenger dopamine is inside the top cell. Receptors on the bottom cell are waiting to receive it.
NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON DRUG ABUSE

As it moves through a nerve cell, an electrical signal will stimulate these sacs. Then, the vesicles move to — and merge with — their cell’s outer membrane. From there, they spill their chemicals into the synapse.

Those freed neurotransmitters then float across the gap and over to a neighboring cell. That new cell has receptors pointing toward the synapse. These receptors contain pockets, where the neurotransmitter needs to fit.

It’s a bit like a game of catch. The first cell releases the neurochemical into the synapse and the receiving cell must catch it before it can read it and respond. The receptor is the
part of the cell that does the catching.

Signals for all of our sensations — including touch, sight and hearing — are relayed this way. So are the nerve signals that control movements, thoughts and emotions.

Each cell-to-cell relay in the brain takes less than a millionth of a second. And that relay will repeat for as far as a message needs to travel.

In recent years, researchers have learned that receptors are just as important as neurotransmitters in maintaining a healthy brain. In fact, studies have demonstrated that receptors play an important role in mood, learning, and social bonds. Receptors also mediate structural plasticity or remodeling of brain circuits that may result in changes to the number and type of synapses.

This short video discusses synaptic transmission in a simple and clear way.


 

Adapted from Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives

As The World Wide Web Turns 30, How Is The Internet Changing Your Brain? #BrainAwarenessWeek

This day 30 years ago signaled the birth of the World Wide Web, ushering in the information age and revolutionizing life as we know it.

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Former physicist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World-Wide Web as an essential tool for High Energy Physics (HEP) at CERN from 1989 to 1994. Together with a small team he conceived HTML, http, URLs, and put up the first server and the first wysiwyg (what you see is what you get) browser and html editor. (Photo: CERN)

Vague but exciting.”

This was how Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s boss responded when the 33-year-old British physicist submitted his proposal for a decentralized system of information management on March 12, 1989.

Today there are over 4.4 billion internet users worldwide, growing at a rate of more than 11 new users per second. Internet user growth has accelerated in the past year, with more than 366 million new users coming online since January 2018.

This is your brain on the internet

The Internet takes advantage of the two most important features within the human brain – that social behaviour elicits pleasure and that vision triggers memories and emotions deep within our unconscious minds.

The first feature is that social activity triggers a nerve pathway deep in our subconscious – the mesolimbic dopamine pathway – also called the reward pathway, releasing a chemical called dopamine which bathes the brain’s pleasure centres – similar to other activities with intrinsic value such as food, sex and getting money.

Getting high on social activity

People like talking about themselves on social media because it has intrinsic value by generating a warm emotion of being part of something important. In other words, we like sharing because it is enjoyable for its own sake as a social activity. In this way sharing is deeply sensory – we humans literally ‘get high’ on social activity.

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The image to the left is a view of the human brain cut down the middle. The reward pathway – shown in red – is activated by a rewarding stimulus.

The major structures in the reward pathway are highlighted: the ventral tegmental area (VTA), the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex.

The VTA sends information along its connections to both the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex. The neurons of the VTA contain the neurotransmitter dopamine which is released in the nucleus accumbens and in the prefrontal cortex. The pathway shown here is not the only pathway activated by rewards, other structures are involved too, but only this part of the pathway is shown for simplicity

The power of online images

The second feature worth noting is that over 70% of the human brain is dedicated to vision which means that our brains think in terms of visual images.

In fact, the visual system is the first to mature in the human brain so that by the age of five, children are able to compete on visual games with their grandparents …and win!

This explains why social networks like Instagram that use images are so popular.

The internet and the brain share common features

Ed Bullmore, professor of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, has noted how the human brain and the internet have quite a lot in common.

“They are both highly non-random networks with a “small world” architecture, meaning that there is both dense clustering of connections between neighbouring nodes and enough long-range short cuts to facilitate communication between distant nodes, ” he points out.

Both the internet and the brain have a wiring diagram dominated by a relatively few, very highly connected nodes or hubs; and both can be subdivided into a number of functionally specialised families or modules of nodes. – Ed Bullmore

Berner Lee’s thoughts on the world wide web today

While the invention of the world wide web has changed our world in many positive ways, there is a dark side that has recently emerged.

In an open letter to mark the anniversary, Berner Lee questioned what it has become on the 30th anniversary of its creation, noting democracy and privacy were now under serious threat.

But he added it wasn’t too late to straighten the ship’s course.

“If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us. We will have failed the web,” he wrote. “It’s our journey from digital adolescence to a more mature, responsible and inclusive future.”

We could equally apply these words to the neurobiology of internet usage. Whether the internet is changing our minds for the better or not is a debate that coalesced around Nicholas Carr’s book published a decade ago The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains).  Carr argues that the internet is making us “more stupid” as we are losing the ability to concentrate and remember.

Perhaps the question is less about how the internet is changing our brains, but more accurately how is it changing our thinking.

But that’s a debate for another day.

Since we’re not going to dismantle the world wide web any time soon, the most important question is: how should we respond?

How Does Your Brain Work? #BrainAwarenessWeek

To mark Brain Awareness Week, a global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research, which runs from 11-17 March 2019, I will be posting a series of articles on the nature of the brain.

Your brain is a multilayered web of billions of nerve cells arranged in patterns that coordinate thought, emotion, behaviour, movement and sensation.

A complicated highway system of nerves connects your brain to the rest of your body so communication can occur in split seconds. Think about how fast you pull your hand back from a hot stove.

The outermost layer, the cerebral cortex (the “gray matter” of the brain), is a fraction of an inch thick but contains 70 percent of all neurons. Deep folds and wrinkles in the brain increase the surface area of the gray matter, so more information can be processed.

Your brain’s hemispheres are divided into four lobes.

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  • The frontal lobes control thinking, planning, organizing, problem-solving, short-term memory and movement.
  • The parietal lobes interpret sensory information, such as taste, temperature and touch.
  • The occipital lobes process images from your eyes and link that information with images stored in memory.
  • The temporal lobes process information from your senses of smell, taste and sound. They also play a role in memory storage.

The cerebrum is divided into two halves (hemispheres) by a deep fissure. The hemispheres communicate with each other through a thick tract of nerves, called the corpus callosum, at the base of the fissure. In fact, messages to and from one side of the body are usually handled by the opposite side of the brain.

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Beneath the cortex are areas such as the basal ganglia, which controls movement; the limbic system, central to emotion; and the hippocampus, a keystone of memory.
The primitive brainstem regulates balance, coordination and life-sustaining processes such as breathing and heartbeat.

Throughout the brain, nerve cells (neurons) communicate with one another through interlocking circuits. Neurons have two main types of branches coming off their cell bodies. Dendrites receive incoming messages from other nerve cells. Axons carry outgoing signals from the cell body to other cells — such as a nearby neuron or muscle cell.

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Interconnected with each other, neurons are able to provide efficient, lightning-fast communication. When a neuron is stimulated, it generates a tiny electrical current, which passes down a fiber, or axon. The end of the axon releases neurotransmitters —chemicals that cross a microscopic gap, or synapse — to stimulate other neurons nearby.

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Neurotransmitters: Queensland Brain Inst.

Neurotransmitters pass through the synapse, the gap between two nerve cells, and attach to receptors on the receiving cell. This process repeats from neuron to neuron, as the impulse travels to its destination — a web of communication that allows you to move, think, feel and communicate.

While all the parts of your brain work together, each part is responsible for a specific function — controlling everything from your heart rate to your mood.


Sources

Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives

Mayo Clinic

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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A new prosthetic hand enables amputees to regain a subtle, close to natural, sense of touch.

Researchers at MIT have developed a new neuroimaging technique that can track signaling processes inside neurons. The MRI sensor will enable researchers to identify the roles neurons play in different types of behavior.

Estrogen in the brain is important to keep neurons communicating and memories being made, scientists report.

A new study shows that there is a very limited regeneration of cells in the brain of patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). These findings underline the importance of treating MS at an early stage of the disease progression, when the affected cells can repair the damage as they are not replaced by new ones.

Researchers report alterations in RNA editing play a vital role in autism spectrum disorder.

Older adults who engage in short bursts of physical activity can experience a boost in brain health even if the activity is carried out at a reasonably low intensity, according to a new study.

In children with autism, the sound of their mom’s voice creates a weaker brain response than in their peers not on the autism spectrum, a new study reports.

Researchers report they have identified biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease in spinal fluid samples of a significant number of older patients hospitalized as a result of hip fractures. The study suggests neural alterations that lead to poor balance in older people may signify an increased risk of falls that result in hip fractures, and Alzheimer’s disease.

A new study reveals how male sex steroids impact brain development

Finally this week, scientists have found the first common genetic risk variants for autism and uncovered genetic differences in clinical subgroups of autism. The discovery means that we will in future be able to determine the genes which separate the diagnostic groups, make more precise diagnoses, and provide better counselling for the individual person suffering from autism disorders.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Image Source: RIKEN

Researchers report the hierarchy of intrinsic neural timescales appears to be disrupted in adults on the autism spectrum. 

A new study reveals teenage binge drinking can result in lasting epigenetic changes that alter the expression of BDNF-AS, a protein vital for the formation of neural connection in the amygdala.

Researchers shed light on the neural networks that appear to govern human consciousness.

Scientists report the popular bodybuilding protein supplement, L-norvaline, can have a negative impact on brain health. Researchers found that in low concentrations, the supplement causes damage to neurons which eventually leads to cell death.

A new study finds cannabis use in teens is associated with a higher risk of developing depression and anxiety as adults.

According to researchers, there is an optimum amount of dopamine that should be present within the brain. This optimum amount can help improve cognitive performance on tasks, researchers report.

A new study reveals the somatosensory cortex plays a complex role in memory and reward learning.

Scientists report EEG technology can help to predict the onset of epileptic seizures up to four minutes in advance. Additionally, acetate, an edible acid, may help to prevent seizures if they are detected with enough notice.

Teenagers suffering with depression may struggle with recalling specific memories, according to new research from the University of Reading.

A new study reveals women’s brains tend to appear three years younger than males of the same age. Researchers report this could be a reason why women tend to remain mentally sharp longer than men.

A new prosthetic hand enables amputees to regain a subtle, close to natural, sense of touch.

Finally this week, new research reports that older adults who exercise by using electric bicycles experience comparable cognitive and mental health benefits to those who use a standard, pedal-powered bike.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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This diagram shows how the effects of Gαs-coupled agonists on T cells can be influenced by sleep or disease. NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to Dimitrov et al., 2019.

A new study reports sleep can help immune cells attach to targets and help fight infection. The study reveals how sleep assists the body in fighting infections, whereas conditions like chronic stress can make the body more susceptible to illness.

Researchers have demonstrated that physical coordination is more beneficial in larger groups.

Scientists have identified a small set of molecules that can convert glial cells into new neurons. The finding could help develop new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and brain injuries.

New therapeutic molecules show promise in reversing the memory loss linked to depression and aging.

The first population-level study on the link between gut bacteria and mental health identifies specific gut bacteria linked to depression and provides evidence that a wide range of gut bacteria can produce neuroactive compounds. Jeroen Raes (VIB-KU Leuven) and his team published these results today in the scientific journal Nature Microbiology.

A new study reports unexpected changes in music activates the nucleus accumbens, providing reward and helping us to learn about the music as we listen. 

Researchers reveal the different cognitive styles of creative and analytical thinkers are a result of fundamental differences in neural activity that can be observed when people are not working on a problem.

Finally this week, a new study reports fluvoxamine, an antidepressant used to treat OCD appears to be effective in stopping sepsis.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Activity in the brain’s somatosensory cortex, which receives pain signals, increased 126 percent following a sleepless night vs. a full night of sleep. 

Researchers report sleep deprivation intensifies and prolongs pain.

A new study reports a causal link between dopamine, musical pleasure and motivation. Phamacologically manipulating dopamine levels, researchers found increasing dopamine increased the hedonic experience and motivational response to listening to a piece of music.

Scientists have developed a protein sensor which allows for the observation of nicotine’s movement in cells.

Patients with psychosis have accelerated aging of two brain networks important for general cognition–the frontoparietal network (FPN) and cingulo-opercular network (CON)–according to a new study in Biological Psychiatry.

A new international study has identified 269 new genes linked to depression.

Researchers have identified the 3D structure of a brain receptor that causes nausea as a result of chemotherapy treatments for cancer. The same receptor also plays a critical role in pain perception, migraines and chronic itching.

There is growing evidence that at least in some patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD), the disease may begin in the gut. 

New science uncovers how an unlikely culprit, Porphyromonas gingivalis (Pg) – the bacterium commonly associated with chronic gum disease – appears to drive Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pathology.

Researchers have identified a genetic link between impulsivity and a predisposition to engage in risky behaviors.

Differences in cognitive development between hearing and deaf children start in infancy, according to new research by The Ohio State University College of Medicine published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

A new study reveals blood cell DNA remains steady, even after transplant. The findings shed new light on human aging.

Finally this week, researchers have shed new light on why some people may not respond to antidepressants for major depressive disorder. The study reports neurons in the brains of some with MDD may become hyperactive in the presence of SSRIs.

Is The Internet Changing Your Brain? #SaferInternetDay

Today, on #SaferInternetDay, I thought it a good time to return to a topic I’ve spoken about over the years. The question of whether our brains are being altered due to our increasing reliance on search engines, social networking sites, and other digital technologies, is always a timely one.

The Internet can be a force for positive change (as with new ‘cybertherapies’ to help patients with addiction and post-traumatic stress disorders), but equally, it can have a negative effect on mental health – especially with young people.

Today, I’m giving a talk to parents on the pros and cons of gaming and why gaming is so attractive to young people. I want to offer parents an opportunity to create a balance in their child’s world through understanding what is going on inside their child’s brain.

The talk takes place at Nenagh Arts Centre, Co Tipperary.  If you can’t attend in person, I’ll be sharing my slides later this week on SlideShare so check back in again.

This event is FREE but it is essential to book a seat with the Arts Centre on 067 34400 or through Eventbrite. 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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A new study reveals taking a short daytime nap can help to consolidate learning and memory of new foreign words.

Astrocytes, ‘caretaker’ cells that surround and support neurons in the brain, may lead the tempo of the body’s internal clock and control patterns of daily behavior, a new study reports.

Pre-teens who use a mobile phone or watch TV in the dark an hour before bed are at risk of not getting enough sleep, a new study reveals.

In a scientific first, neuroengineers have created a system that translates thought into intelligible, recognizable speech. This breakthrough, which harnesses the power of speech synthesizers and artificial intelligence, could lead to new ways for computers to communicate directly with the brain.

Scientists report brain connectivity appears to be dictated by the spatial architecture of neurons, rather than the cell type-specific cues.

A new study reports sleep deprivation increases the levels of tau, and accelerates the spread of the protein, in the brain. The findings reveal a lack of sleep alone may help drive the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers report alterations in RNA editing play a vital role in autism spectrum disorder.

According to a new study, the consequence of daily stress is linked to an increase in REM sleep. Researchers report the increase is associated with genes involved in apoptosis and cell survival. The findings shed light on how stress leads to mood disorders, and how changes in sleep contribute to this.

You can hack your brain to form good habits – like going to the gym and eating healthily – simply by repeating actions until they stick, according to new research.

Machine learning technology is helping researchers to detect the early signs of Alzheimer’s, by identifying potential blood based biomarkers of the disease. Researchers say the technology has found hidden factors associated with Alzheimer’s through medical data, and could help improve disease prediction.

A new study reveals the molecular switch that helps control the function of satiety neurons and body weight.

When we’re in pain, we have a hard time sleeping. But how does poor sleep affect pain? For the first time, scientists have answered that question by identifying neural glitches in the sleep-deprived brain that can intensify and prolong the agony of sickness and injury.

People with sleep apnea struggle to remember details of memories from their own lives, potentially making them vulnerable to depression, new research has shown.

Finally this week, using CRISPR gene editing, researchers mapped important genes for helping T helper cells. The findings could help generate new treatments to activate the immune system against infection and to attack tumor cells.

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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 Image credited to Dr. Vadim Axelrod

Researchers have identified neurons in the visual cortex that respond to different faces.

Leading a unique, collaborative research study with scientists across the globe, investigators have pinpointed a set of molecules that wire the body weight center of the brain.

A large-scale international study has discovered new genetic risk loci for Alzheimer’s disease, and researchers published their work in Nature Genetics.

A new study reports experiencing vital exhaustion, a symptom of psychological distress, during mid life may be associated with a higher risk of developing dementia later in life.

Researchers have identified over 500 genetic variants which affect the use of, and addiction to, alcohol and tobacco.

A new neuroimaging study has helped researchers capture the processes by which the brain stores information related to when events happen. The findings could help further the understanding of age-related dementia.

Researchers report using rhythmic movements while speaking helps to improve speech skills in children.

A new study uses an epigenetic approach to correct synaptic dysfunction in the brain associated with memory loss. The findings could help to restore memory function in those with Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Scientists say they can predict whether a person can expect to live longer or die sooner than average, by looking at their DNA.

Yale researchers have discovered several genetic variants that signal the risk of serious suicide attempts and noted some variants have also been linked to major depressive disorder.

Scientists report signs of memory problems in old age may be a result of hearing loss and not a neurodegenerative disease.

Using sophisticated computational tools, researchers have discovered biomarkers that may explain why symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be so severe for some people and not for others.

Researchers have discovered how the body is able to initiate repair mechanisms which can limit the extent of damage to the myelin sheath. The findings could help with the development of new therapies for multiple sclerosis.

A new EEG study reveals how the brain utilizes more cognitive resources to hold memory and process previous information.

Chaos in bodily regulation can optimize our immune system according to a recent discovery made by researchers. The discovery may prove to be of great significance for avoiding serious diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

A new neuroimaging study reveals brain activity is reduced when we experience self touch, as opposed to the touch of another person. The findings shed light on how the brain is able to distinguish between tactile sensations generated by the touch of another and personal touch.

A new study shows an association between excessive social media use and impaired risky decision making, a common deficient in substance addiction.

Researchers report children who experience deprivation early in life have impaired memory and executive function between the ages of 8 and 16 compared to peers who were placed in quality foster homes.

New research reveals frequency plays a key role in neural activation from electrical stimulation.

A new study reports amyloid precursor proteins modulate neural signal transmission by binding to a specific receptor. Researchers say modulating the receptor could help treat Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers report a genetic mutation that causes structural abnormalities in the adolescent brain may predict an increased risk of schizophrenia later in life.

A new neuroimaging study reveals tasks that require audiovisual processing are extremely difficult for children with dyslexia. The findings could lead to new tests that help identify the disorder before children fall behind their peers.

Finally this week, a new study reveals differences in genes in four areas of the brain that contribute to psychiatric disorders.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Image: di Domenico/Stem Cell Reports

A new study reveals a defective version of astrocytes may be linked to the build up of alpha synuclein and could spur Parkinson’s disease. The findings show the important role glial cells play in Parkinson’s and offers insights into new targets for therapies to fight the neurodegenerative disease.

A genome-wide analysis of nearly 45,000 people has identified 16 regions of DNA associated with epilepsy, 11 of which are newly identified.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Cologne found when people crave specific foods, the brain releases more dopamine when they finally consume the item. The study reports the gastrointestinal tract is in constant contact with the brain and uses reward stimuli to control our desire for food.

Researchers have developed a method to determine the length of mutated genes associated with Huntington’s disease quickly and easily.

Men with dyslexia have altered structural connections between the thalamus and auditory cortex on the left side of the brain, new research published in Journal of Neuroscience reveals.

A new study reports when we retrieve information about visual objects, the brain first focuses on the core meaning and afterwards recalls specific details.

Researchers report that neuron loss in Alzheimer’s disease may not be such a bad thing. The study reveals the loss of neurons may be the result of a cell quality control mechanism attempting to protect the brain from the accumulation of malfunctioning neurons.

Neurofeedback training stimulates the cortical learning process and can help improve the sense of touch, a new study reveals.

Research led by stem cell scientists at Harvard University points to a potential new biomarker and drug target for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurological disease that is extremely difficult to diagnose and treat.

Finally this week, researchers have identified over 500 genetic variants which affect the use of, and addiction to, alcohol and tobacco.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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A new study reports the neurons that focus on coarse visual details could change to prefer finer details under different conditions. The findings shed new light on the neural mechanism that helps shape our perception of the world.

The most comprehensive genomic analysis of the human brain ever undertaken has revealed new insights into the changes it undergoes through development, how it varies among individuals and the roots of neuropsychiatric illnesses such as autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia.

Researchers have identified a new role for the cerebellum. Rather than just helping to control muscle activity, the cerebellum may also play a critical role in cognitive functions.

When parents play with their child, their brains show similar bursts of brain activity. The activity is linked to their baby’s attention patterns, and not their own, researchers report.

We know a good meal can stimulate the release of the feel-good hormone dopamine, and now a study from the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Germany suggests that dopamine release in the brain occurs at two different times: at the time the food is first ingested and another once the food reaches the stomach.

A new multi-site brain imaging study shows that sub-groups of people use their brains differently when imitating emotional faces – a task that reflects their ability to interact socially.

Finally, this week, according to researchers, Botulinum toxin, or Botox, injections can help to reduce the frequency of chronic migraines.

 

 

 

Why Keeping New Year’s Resolutions Is All In The Mind

Happy New Year!

Have you made any new year’s resolutions this year?

Despite the high failure rate of these resolutions – research by British psychologist Richard Wiseman in 2007  has shown that 88% of all resolutions end in failure – many continue to make the same resolutions year in and year out.

But just why are our old habit so hard to break?

The Science of Willpower

The brain area largely responsible for willpower is the prefrontal cortex (located just behind the forehead). This area of the brain is also in charge of keeping us focused, handling short-term memory and solving abstract problems.

Author Johan Lehrer writing in the Wall Street Journal proposed that adding new year’s resolutions to an overloaded prefrontal cortex is a sure-fire recipe for failure.

He referred to an experiment led by Baba Shiv at Stanford University, where several dozen undergraduates were divided into two groups. One group was given a two-digit number to remember, while the second group was given a seven-digit number. Then they were told to walk down the hall, where they were presented with two different snack options: a slice of chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit salad.

What do you think happened?

The students with seven digits to remember were nearly twice as likely to choose the cake as students given two digits. The reason, according to Prof. Shiv, is that those extra numbers took up valuable space in the brain—they were a “cognitive load”—making it that much harder to resist a decadent dessert. In other words, willpower is so weak, and the prefrontal cortex is so overtaxed, that all it takes is five extra bits of information before the brain starts to give in to temptation. “A tired brain, preoccupied with its problems, is going to struggle to resist what it wants, even when what it wants isn’t what we need.” writes Lehrer.

So instead of blaming our own lack of discipline in not keeping to our resolutions, perhaps this research shows that the power of will is not enough due to the very nature of the brain.

So now we know what doesn’t work when it comes to keeping those resolutions, let’s take a look at what might help.

How To Keep New Year’s Resolutions

Lehrer suggests we think of willpower as a muscle that needs to be strengthened. Prof Roy Baumeister, a psychologist at Florida State University who has pioneered the muscle metaphor, suggests that it might be possible to strengthen willpower by exercising it.

He asked a group of students to improve their posture for two weeks, thereby practicing mental discipline in one area. The students showed a marked improvement on subsequent measures of self-control, at least when compared to a group that didn’t work on posture control.

If this sounds like too much hard work, you could always try the tried and tested goal-setting approach to making positive change stick.

Think about some small changes you could make in your lifestyle that would help to bring about your ultimate goal.  The cumulative impact of a modest change to your daily routine will restore in you the feeling that you are in control.

Above all, don’t use your resolutions as a stick to beat yourself with. Ditch the negative connotations and instead focus on what those small changes will bring to your life in a positive way in the coming year.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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How do neural networks in different brain areas communicate with each other? The Bernstein Center Freiburg proposes a new model.

Researchers propose a new model to help explain how the level of activity in neural networks influences the flow of information.

A neurofeedback system enables Parkinson’s disease patients to voluntarily control brainwaves associated with symptoms of the disorder, according to new research published in eNeuro.

One night of sleep loss can increase the desirability of junk foods, finds a study of healthy weight young men published in Journal of Neuroscience.

When two events occur within a brief window of time they become linked in memory, such that calling forth the memory of one helps retrieve memory for the other event, according to research published in Psychological Science. This happens even when temporal proximity is the only feature that the two events share.

Researchers have identified specific diffusible molecules that are essential for boundary formation in the brain.

Scientists report that neuron loss in Alzheimer’s disease may not be such a bad thing. The study reveals the loss of neurons may be the result of a cell quality control mechanism attempting to protect the brain from the accumulation of malfunctioning neurons.

A new study reveals passive exposure to foreign speech sounds over the course of several consecutive days helps enhance language learning.

People with Huntington’s disease who participated in intellectually stimulating activities had less brain atrophy than those with the disease who did not take up such activities.

Finally this week, boys with good motor skills are better problem-solvers than their less skillful peers, a new study from Finland shows. 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Image Credit: Guillaume Sandoz, CNRS

Researchers at CNRS, Université Côte d’Azur and Inserm have demonstrated a new mechanism related to the onset of migraine. In fact, they found how a mutation, causes dysfunction in a protein which inhibits neuronal electrical activity, induces migraines. These results, published in Neuron on Dec. 17, 2018, open a new path for the development of anti-migraine medicines.

Scientists using eye tracking software, report what we look at helps guide our decisions when faced with two visible choices.

A new study reports children and teens who face chronic bullying have altered brain structure, as well as problems with anxiety and depression. Researchers found those who were bullies had structural changes to the putamen and caudate, contributing to the development of anxiety related behaviors and emotional processing.

Researchers have identified specific neurons in the medial prefrontal cortex, called self-monitoring error neurons, that fire immediately after people make a mistake.

New findings show how alcohol influences dopaminergic and inhibitory neurons in the ventral tegmental area. The findings could help develop new treatments for alcohol dependence.

A diet of fast food, cakes and processed meat increases your risk of depression, according to a new study.

Scientists who recently identified the molecular start of Alzheimer’s disease have used that finding to determine that it should be possible to forecast which type of dementia will develop over time – a form of personalized medicine for neurodegenerative diseases.

A new study reports lightly stroking an infant, at a speed of 3 centimeters per second, can help to provide pain relief prior to medical procedures.

Researchers have identified cognitive subgroups related to genetic differences in Alzheimer’s patients. The findings could open the door for more personalized treatments of the neurodegenerative disease.

A previously unknown brain mechanism that regulates anxiety has come to light. It allows a gene-altering protein to enter the nucleus of brain cells.

Finally this week, researchers discovered activity in brain regions involved in reward response from dopamine was higher in subjects injected with the hormone ghrelin, but only when responding to images associated with food smells. The study reports ghrelin controls the extent to which the brain associates reward with food odors.

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Researchers have found “different patterns” in brain scans among children who record heavy smart device and video game use, according to initial data from a major ongoing US study.

A new study reports the combination of a toxic herbicide and lectins may trigger Parkinsonism after the toxins travel from the stomach to the brain.

Later-born siblings of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are at elevated risk for both disorders, a new study has concluded. The study suggests that families who already have a child diagnosed with ASD or ADHD may wish to monitor younger siblings for symptoms of both conditions.

Researchers have shed light on the dual nature of dopamine, as a neurotransmitter that makes us seek pleasure and also reinforces avoidance of pain.

A new neuroimaging study reveals imagination may help people with fear or anxiety disorders overcome them. The study reports imagining a threat can alter the way it is represented in the brain.

Stimulating the lateral orbitofrontal cortex improves mood in those suffering from depression, a new study reveals.

Scientists report low levels of GABA producing bacteria is associated with brain signatures of depression. They believe it may be possible to treat clinical depression by increasing GABA producing bacteria.

Finally, this week, using machine learning to analyze fMRI brain scans of grieving people, researchers shed light on how unconscious suppression occurs.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Researchers have uncovered how specific retinal cells respond to the artificial light generated by cell phone and tablets. The study reveals how retinal ganglion cells process ambient light and reset our circadian clocks, leading to sleep disruptions.

Stimulating the lateral orbitofrontal cortex improves mood in those suffering from depression, a new study reveals.

New research has discovered that a type of adult stem cell found in a variety of tissues can be manipulated to enhance tissue regeneration and potentially treat inflammatory diseases.

A new study reports obesity can significantly increase the risk of depression, even in the absence of other health problems.

Researchers have made a breakthrough in understanding the development of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In a new study, the researchers reveal they have identified specific gene variants which increase the risk of ADHD.

A new study combines hundreds of brain scans of patients with OCD and pinpoints problems with error processing in the brain that leads to repetitive behaviors.

Researchers say a new discovery about the pathways associated with consciousness contradicts conventional belief. The study reports the thalamus is not a critical part of the brain’s pathway involved in wakefulness and consciousness, a finding that could help develop better methods for treating comas.

A new study reveals how the brain processes sound and how quickly neurons transition from processing the sound of speech to the language based words.

With a finding that will “rewrite neuroanatomy textbooks,” scientists have shown that the thalamus is not a critical part of the brain pathway involved in keeping humans awake and conscious.

Finally this week, older adults who take up drawing could enhance their memory, according to a new study.

 

Alzheimer’s Researchers Detect Genetic Recombination in the Brain

For the first time, scientists have identified gene recombination, or “mixing and matching” of DNA, in the brain.

New technology revealed DNA in neurons is recombined, producing thousands of previously unknown gene variations—and identifying a potential near-term treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, published in Nature and authored by Jerold Chun, M.D., Ph.D., professor and senior vice president of Neuroscience Drug Discovery at SBP, focused on the Alzheimer’s-linked gene, APP, and discovered it is recombined by using the same type of enzyme found in HIV. This finding indicates existing FDA-approved antiretroviral therapies for HIV that block reverse transcriptase might also be able to halt the recombination process—and could be explored as a new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

New Brain Region ‘Could Be What Makes Humans Unique’

In this video, Professor George Paxinos AO describes the hidden region of the brain, which he has named the endorestiform nucleus. He tells us where it’s located and its possible function. He also discusses 3D mapping and why this discovery might set us apart from other primates.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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A new study reports short distance connectivity abnormalities may be involved in social cognitive deficits in those with autism spectrum disorders.

Capitalizing on recent advances in neuroimaging and genetic biomarker research, scientists have been able to identify specific pathways by which tau and beta-amyloid, two proteins that are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, accumulate in the brain over time.

A new study reports people who experience migraines with visual auras are at increased risk of atrial fibrillation.

Researchers report there are two distinct ways in which we make temporal predictions, and these rely on different parts of the brain. The findings offer a new perspective on how humans calculate when to make a move.

A 15-minute scan could help diagnose brain damage in babies up to two years earlier than current methods.

A newborn baby’s brain responds to being touched on the face, according to new research. Babies use this sense of touch — facial somatosensation — to find and latch onto their mother’s nipple, and should have this ability from birth. Premature babies often have difficulty feeding, and underdevelopment of their facial sensitivity may be one of the main causes.

MRI brain scans perform better than common clinical tests at predicting which people will go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study.

Researchers at the University of Queensland have discovered that the thickness of the brain’s outer layer influences how individual neurons process information. The findings, published in the journal, Neuron, challenge the understanding of how brain circuits function throughout the brain.

Finally, this week, new research published in the Journal of Physiology presents a breakthrough in the treatment of Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS).

 

This Is Your Brain On Gratitude

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“Thank you” doesn’t just bring light to people’s faces. It also lights up different parts of the brain.

In honor of Thanksgiving, I’d like to share this article with you from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.

Evidence is mounting that gratitude makes a powerful impact on our bodies, including our immune and cardiovascular health. But how does gratitude work in the brain?

A team at the University of Southern California has shed light on the neural nuts and bolts of gratitude in a new study, offering insights into the complexity of this social emotion and how it relates to other cognitive processes.

There seems to be a thread that runs through subtle acts of gratitude, such as holding a door for someone, all the way up to the big powerful stuff like when someone gives you a kidney,” says Glenn Fox, a postdoctoral researcher at USC and lead author of the study. “I designed this experiment to see what aspects of brain function are common to both these small feelings of appreciation and large feelings of gratitude.

In their experiment, Fox and his team planned to scan participants’ brains while they were feeling grateful to see where gratitude showed up.

The researchers found that grateful brains showed enhanced activity in two primary regions: the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). These areas have been previously associated with emotional processing, interpersonal bonding and rewarding social interactions, moral judgment, and the ability to understand the mental states of others.

A lot of people conflate gratitude with the simple emotion of receiving a nice thing. What we found was something a little more interesting,” says Fox. “The pattern of [brain]activity we see shows that gratitude is a complex social emotion that is really built around how others seek to benefit us.

In other words, gratitude isn’t merely about reward—and doesn’t just show up in the brain’s reward center. It involves morality, connecting with others, and taking their perspective.

In further studies, Fox hopes to investigate what’s going on in the body as gratitude improves our health and well-being.

It’s really great to see all the benefits that gratitude can have, but we are not done yet. We still need to see exactly how it works, when it works, and what are the best ways to bring it out more,” he says. “Enhancing our knowledge of gratitude pulls us closer to our own human dignity and what we can do to benefit each other.

You might also like to read When You Are Grateful, Your Brain Becomes More Charitable

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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A network of more than 200 genes encoding proteins with diverse cellular roles was revealed in a non-biased CRISPR screen for regulators of microexon splicing. Many of the genes have previously been linked to autism. Image is credited to Thomas Gonatopoulos-Pournatzis.

Using CRISPR techniques, researchers have uncovered a genetic network linked to autism.

Researchers find evidence of cognitive issues and miRNA biomarkers, indicating brain injuries from concussions or head-to-head contact, in college football players. The findings indicated lasting damage caused by sports-related concussions occur earlier than expected.

A new method for studying the mircobiome has allowed researchers to identify a connection between metabolism in gut bacteria and the development of diabetes.

A new study has identified unique functional brain networks associated with characteristic behaviors of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in 12- and 24-month old children at risk for developing ASD. The study is published in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.

Researchers have identified a brain network that may control the diversion of attention to focus on potential threats. Dopamine, they report, is key to the process.

New research has found preliminary evidence that high-intensity interval exercise temporarily impairs reward learning mechanisms in the brain. The research, which was published in Physiology & Behavior, indicates that this type of exercise does not improve all aspects of cognitive function.

A new study reports aerobic exercise can have antidepressant effects for patients with major depressive disorder.

Researchers propose a new theory of human thinking, suggesting our brain’s navigation system is key to thinking. This may explain why our knowledge seems to be organized in spatial fashion.

Scientists have solved a 125-year-old mystery of the brain, and, in the process, uncovered a potential treatment for acquired epilepsy.

A new neuroimaging study reveals the brains of teenage girls who self-harm show similar features to adults with borderline personality disorder.

Researchers were able to distinguish between children with or without ASD diagnosis, thanks to a new saliva-based biomarker panel. Researchers report the test can be used in children as young as 18 month, assisting in early diagnosis of autism.

Finally this week, a new study reveals common brain activity patterns associated with depressive moods.

 

 

 

 

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 poses a uniquely complex brain, so complex that in all of human history no two human brains can be identical. This is because the unique combination of about 100 trillion tiny brain connections (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.

 

 

 

How Stress Affects The Brain #StressAwarenessDay

Stress isn’t always a bad thing; it can be handy for a burst of extra energy and focus, like when you’re playing a competitive sport or have to speak in public. But when it’s continuous, it actually begins to change your brain. In this video, Madhumita Murgia shows how chronic stress can affect brain size, its structure, and how it functions, right down to the level of your genes

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Axons of retinal ganglion cells (red) derived from human pluripotent stem cells bundle together and navigate their environment using growth cones (green), similar to human development of the optic nerve. NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to Department of Biology, School of Science at IUPUI

Biologists are growing ‘mini retinas’ in the lab from stem cells to mimic the growth of the human retina. The researchers hope to use the research to restore sight when critical connections between the eye and the brain are damaged. These models also allow the researchers to better understand how cells in the retina develop and are organized. These results are published online in Scientific Reports, a Nature Research journal.

Researchers have discovered how the brain attempts to compensate for poor performance in tasks which require complicated transformation, such as writing your name backwards.

Observing the brain’s response to repeated stimuli has helped KAUST researchers develop a method for modeling connectivity patterns in neural networks. Mapping connectivity patterns will help to better understand brain function, ultimately improving diagnosis and treatment of brain diseases and mental disorders.

A new study reveals unique connections within brain networks in children on the autism spectrum. Researchers say, in ASD, the amygdala shows marked differences in connection with the occipital cortex than in typically developing children.

Researchers have identified key differences between the way males and females with schizophrenia process the emotional states of others than those without the condition. The study reports those with schizophrenia use less complex brain regions than healthy controls to process other people’s emotions.

According to a new study, certain behavioral risk factors strongly predict the likelihood of a person developing depression, and these risk factors change as we age.

Using neuroimaging technology, researchers have identified three different subtypes of depressive disorder, including one that seems to be untreatable by common SSRI antidepressants.

Finally this week, researchers report those who have had appendectomies have a reduced risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. A new study reveals the appendix acts as a reservoir for proteins associated with the neurodegenerative disease.

Brain, belief and the nature of Frankenstein

This is a slide-deck from my recent presentation entitled: Brain, belief and the nature of Frankenstein at Frankenweek@UL.The week-long event marked the international celebration of the 200th Anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for Halloween 2018. The workshop gave me the opportunity to explore how our brain provides differing insights, values and priorities in shaping beliefs, and in how we understand ourselves in the world.

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Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Image:  Bansal et al., PLOS Computational Biology, October 2018.

Scientists are using computational models of the brain to simulate how the structure of the brain may impact brain activity and, ultimately, human behavior. The research focuses on interconnectivity, looking at how different regions are linked to and interact with one another.

Using a green filter helps to increase reading speed for children with dyslexia, researchers report.

Using three different training models, researchers report mental training, mindfulness and meditation can induce structural brain plasticity and reduce social stress.

A new study reports sleep helps improve learning performance in predictable processes.

A new brain imaging study reveals how the midbrain and striatum, two key areas of the dopamine system, become more active when a person updates their beliefs about the world around them.

Researchers report deep brain stimulation has little benefit for those suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Finally this week, a decade worth of data reveals people who multitask with different forms of media at once are worse at completing simple memory tasks.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Chang Lab’s research reveals what area of the human brain controls the pitch of our speech.

Researchers have revealed the area of the brain that controls our voice box, allowing us to alter the pitch of our speech. The insight could pave the way for advancing neuroprosthetics to allow people who can’t speak, to express themselves in a naturalistic way.

A new study reports the brain mechanisms responsible for triggering memory are identical, whether a person is awake or asleep.

While the effects of sleep deprivation are well known, researchers discover sleeping too much could have a detrimental effect on your brain. A new study reports sleeping more than eight hours per night can reduce cognitive ability and reasoning skills.

Researchers have discovered the thalamus plays a crucial role in the development of normal sleep and waking states.

A new study reports T cells are activated in the intestines and migrate to the brain, causing an inflammatory cascade that may lead to multiple sclerosis. Researchers say the gut microbiome may play a more significant role in the development and progression of MS than previously believed.

A new study reports an afternoon nap can help us to process unconscious information and enhance cognition.

Utilizing lesion network mapping, a recently developed technique for analyzing how the brain works, researchers have studied free will perception related to movement decisions.

A new study reports a protein made by astrocytes plays a critical role in brain plasticity by assisting with neural maturation and flexibility.

Only a small proportion of cases of dementia are thought to be inherited – the cause of the vast majority is unknown. Now, in a study published today in the journal Nature Communications, a team of scientists led by researchers at the University of Cambridge believe they may have found an explanation: spontaneous errors in our DNA that arise as cells divide and reproduces.

An international team of researchers has demonstrated, with electrophysiological evidence, the existence of grid-like activity in the human brain.

Finally, this week, a new study reports people may be able to avoid depression, even if they have a genetic predisposition to SAD, by maintaining or boosting serotonin levels throughout the year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To “Vaccinate” Yourself Against Depression #WorldMentalHealthDay

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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

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Whole brain analyses revealed that higher dispositional mindfulness during painful heat was associated with greater deactivation of a brain region called the posterior cingulate cortex, a central neural node of the default mode network. Further, in those that reported higher pain, there was greater activation of this critically important brain region. image is credited to Zeidan et al.

Ever wonder why some people seem to feel less pain than others? A  new study may have found one of the answers – mindfulness.

Researchers at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience in Norway in have discovered a network of brain cells that express our sense of time within experiences and memories.

A new study reveals elevated glial activation in the brains of those with fibromyalgia.

Brains of baby boys born prematurely are affected differently and more severely than premature infant girls’ brains. This is according to a study published in the Springer Nature-branded journal Pediatric Research.

According to researchers, the speed at which a person speaks influences the way we hear and understand upcoming words. 

A new study reports under conditions of stress, KCNB1 builds up in the brain, before becoming toxic and promoting the production of amyloid beta. In Alzheimer’s patients, the KCNB1 levels are higher than in those without the condition.

Researchers report pyramidal neurons in the basolateral amygdala help us to recognize and categorize foods.

A new study sheds additional light on how the brain consolidates memory during sleep. Researchers report rapid fluctuations in gamma band activity in the hippocampus during nREM sleep helps facilitate memory reactivation.

Finally this week, researchers report on how the brain learns to recognize an individual face, regardless of where it appears in different visual locations.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Different gene variants ensure the diversity of neurons by chance. Image from University of Basel, Biozentrum.

A new mathematical model has shown how different gene variants enable random diversity in neurons.

Common genetic variants may underlie autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia across human populations, according to a study appearing September 11th in the journal Cell Reports.

Researchers report learning rates are enhanced when conditioned stimuli is presented during resting phase of the cardiac cycle.

Cognitive neuroscientists have found out more about how the bilingual brains works, according to a new research paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A new study reports environmentally induced epigenetic alterations have a greater impact on intelligence that previously believed.

Researchers have identified the variables that lead the brain to apply specific defensive strategies while under the threat of danger, and implicate a specific pair of neurons in this process.

Using AI technology, researchers provide new insight into how the human brain connects individual episodic memories to help solve problems.

A new study reports binge drinking affects gene expression in both males and females differently. In females who binge drink, genes linked to hormone signaling and immune function become altered, whereas in males, alterations occur to genes associated with nerve signaling.

Researchers report the brain controls speech production in a similar manner to how it controls the production of arm and hand movements. 

Is pain treatment more helpful if it is provided by a person from our own social group, or is the help of a stranger more efficient? A study conducted by researchers from the Universities of Wuerzburg, Amsterdam and Zurich investigated this question and found that people experience a stronger pain relief if they are treated by a person that belongs to a different social group.

A new study unites cognitive science and information theory, reporting our brains are structured to make the best possible decisions given their limited resources.

Finally, this week, using EEG, researchers have identified smaller spikes in the P3 brain wave is associated with aggressive behavior in young children. The findings could help to diagnose toddlers with aggressive tendencies before their behaviors become ingrained, researchers say.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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This visual abstract depicts findings that people show confirmation bias even about which way dots are moving. Image is credited to Prat-Ortega & de la Rocha, Current Biology.

A new study reports people use confirmation bias, even when a decision they make has little to no consequence.

Analysis of data captured during a long-term study of aging adults shows that those who report being very sleepy during the day were nearly three times more likely than those who didn’t to have brain deposits of beta amyloid, a protein that’s a hallmark for Alzheimer’s disease, years later.

Researchers have created a computational model that helps explain how mental images drawn from memory can be explained by the firing of specific neurons.

According to a new study, probiotics may not be as effective as most believe. Researchers report many people’s digestive tracts prevent standard probiotics from successfully colonizing them.

A team of researchers has analysed what happens in the brain when humans want to voluntarily forget something.

Whether an individual develops a neurodevelopmental disorder like autism or ADHD and the severity of that disorder depends on genetic changes beyond a single supposedly disease-causing mutation. A new study led by researchers at Penn State reveals that the total amount of rare mutations — deletions, duplications, or other changes to the DNA sequence — in a person’s genome can explain why individuals with a disease-associated mutation can have vastly different symptoms. A paper describing the study appeared today in the journal Genetics in Medicine.

New research has shed new light on genetic processes that may one day lead to the development of therapies that can slow, or even reverse, how our cells age.

Researchers have identified a new neural mechanism that contributes to long term stress and PTSD. The study reports the mechanism is mediated by brain fluid in areas associated with stress response.

Finally this week, is the popular claim that the brain feels no pain substantiated? A new paper looks at the accuracy of the belief.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Image Credit: Kolbjørn Skarpnes & Rita Elmkvist Nilsen / NTNU Communication Division & Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience

Researchers at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience in Norway in have discovered a network of brain cells that express our sense of time within experiences and memories.

A new study reports a strong hand grip is correlated with better visual memory and reaction times in people with psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia.

Dr Max Ortiz Catalan of Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, has developed a new theory for the origin of the mysterious condition, ‘phantom limb pain’. Published in the journal Frontiers in Neurology, his hypothesis builds upon his previous work on a revolutionary treatment for the condition, that uses machine learning and augmented reality.

Researchers report ADHD and conduct disorder exhibit similar, overlapping changes in the brain.

A new study in SLEEP, published by Oxford University Press, indicates that delaying school start times results in students getting more sleep, and feeling better, even within societies where trading sleep for academic success is common.

Scientists have identified a group of blood metabolites that could help detect some children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 

Researchers report the adverse cognitive effects associated with DBS in Pakinson’s patients are linked to a different neural pathway than the one responsible for the motor effects generated by the treatment.

According to a new study, people who have suffered a stroke are twice as likely to develop dementia.

Researchers have developed a new deep learning neural network that can identify speech patterns indicative of depression from audio data. The algorithm is 77% effective at detecting depression.

Finally this week, a new study reports genetic factors count for about 70% of stable academic achievement throughout schooling.

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

child-85321_960_720.jpgSleep researchers report for the first time evidence that naps and overnight sleep may work together to benefit memory in early childhood.

A group of researchers has found that our learning capabilities are limited during slow wave sleep. Using magnetoencephalography (MEG), they showed that while our brain is still able to perceive sounds during sleep, it is unable to group these sounds according to their organisation in a sequence.

Neuroscientists have debunked claims that getting better at a brain training game can translate to improved performance in other, untrained cognitive tasks.

Adults who hold back-and-forth conversations with young children rather than just talking to them may be helping to strengthen connections between the language regions of the children’s brains, new research shows.

Researchers say, to better understand working memory, it is important to resolve the debate over how we hold and judge multiple pieces of information in mind.

According to a new study dehydration can lead to more errors on task performance. Additionally, fMRI neuroimaging showed dehydration can alter brain structure temporarily.

It may be possible in the future to screen patients for Alzheimer’s disease using an eye exam.

Researchers used neuroimaging technology to identify brain differences between those who procrastinate and those who are doers. The study reveals people with poor action control have a larger amygdala, and the connection between the dorsal ACC and amygdala is less pronounced.

A new study reports lifestyle choices, such as smoking or drinking alcohol during early adulthood, can increase the risk of developing dementia or having a stroke later in life.

Scientists have discovered a network of brain cells that express our sense of time within experiences and memories.

In the first peer-reviewed published report of its kind, University of Toronto researchers have demonstrated that focused ultrasound can be used to safely open the blood-brain barrier (BBB) in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Finally, this week neuroscientists have discovered that ketamine works as an antidepressant at least in part by activating the brain’s opioid system.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Where objects appear in a person’s visual field can affect the ability to determine what the object is, researchers say.

Scientists have identified the brain networks that allow you to think of an object name and then verbalize that thought. The study appeared in the July issue of BRAIN. It represents a significant advance in the understanding of how the brain connects meaning to words and will help with the planning of brain surgeries.

New research suggests that shifts in the bacteria within a child’s mouth could provide objective biomarkers for identifying autism spectrum disorder. 

Researchers studying the functional connections among parts of the brain are finding that the “fingerprint” of these patterns can be used to identify individuals over many years and to distinguish their relatives from strangers.

Breaking with the long-held idea that working memory has fixed limits, a new study suggests that these limits adapt themselves to the task that one is performing. 

Young children who are regularly engaged in conversation by adults may have stronger connections between two developing brain regions critical for language, according to a study of healthy young children that confirms a hypothesis registered with the Open Science Framework.

A new study reports estrogen and other sex hormones may be responsible for the higher prevalence of migraines in women.

New therapies could be on the horizon for people living with epilepsy or anxiety, thanks to a breakthrough discovery by an international team of researchers studying how proteins interact to control the firing of brain cells.

Researchers report the interaction between two regions of the prefrontal cortex may underlie our motivation to cling to a desirable notion about the future.

A new study sheds light on the role the caudate nucleus plays in pessimism. The study reports stimulating this area of the brain generates a negative outlook that clouds decision making.

Exercise can help prevent relapses into cocaine addiction, according to new research.

A new study reveals a short time meditating can help to boost cognitive performance. Researchers report students exposed to a ten-minute meditation tape were able to complete simple cognitive tasks more quickly and accurately than their peers.

Researchers report transcranial alternating current stimulation applied during sleep can help accelerate learning, memory and skill acquisition.

Heavy alcohol drinkers attempt to acquire alcohol despite the threat of a negative consequence more so than light drinkers, a study in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging has found, and this behavior is associated with unique activation of brain circuitry in heavy drinkers.

Finally this week,  new neuroimaging study reveals the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex plays a vital role in suppressing the act of revenge.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

pianist-1149172_960_720.jpgTrained pianists have higher levels of brain wave synchronization when improvising pieces of music, a new study reveals.

A new study in SLEEP, published by Oxford University Press, indicates that delaying school start times results in students getting more sleep, and feeling better, even within societies where trading sleep for academic success is common.

Researchers have created a silicon mesh that can be crafted to help stimulate neurons, limbs and tissue.

Using a new advanced imaging technology, scientists have captured new patterns of molecular organization as connections between neurons strengthen during learning tasks.

A new study reports a strong hand grip is correlated with better visual memory and reaction times in people with psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia.

Children and adults diagnosed with brain conditions such as cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and dementia may be one step closer to obtaining new treatments that could help to restore normal function. Researchers have identified a molecule in white matter that prevents the brain from repairing itself following injury. By blocking the production of the molecule, researchers say it may allow an effective pathway for neuroregeneration.

A new study reveals both genetics and environment play a role in shaping brain connectivity.

A new mechanism regulating the early development of connections between the two sides of the nervous system has been identified in a paper published in eNeuro. The work demonstrates that neuronal activity is required for this process, a finding that may provide new insight into brain connectivity disorders such as autism.

Finally this week, a new Nature Communications study reveals 80 newly identified genes that may be linked to an increased risk of developing major depressive disorder.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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University of Chichester psychologists have studied prospective memory to accurately diagnose diseases of cognitive impairment. Image: University of Chichester.

Researchers say acting out scenarios may help to improve prospective memory. Poor prospective memory, researchers report, may be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.

A new study using machine learning has identified brain-based dimensions of mental health disorders, an advance towards much-needed biomarkers to more accurately diagnose and treat patients.

A new report examines the effect stress can have on our bodies and general health.

Structural differences in the cerebellum may be linked to some aspects of autism spectrum disorder, according to a neuroimaging study from Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC).

A new study reports your body fat could be a predictor of cognitive decline. 

Researchers report blind people need additional timing cues to accurately judge relative locations of sounds, but those without visual impairments who were blindfolded could judge the relative location of sounds independently from timing cues.

 Finally this week, researchers report transcranial alternating current stimulation applied during sleep can help accelerate learning, memory and skill acquisition.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Staining one section of the brain, as shown, reveals layers of the piriform cortex–in green, brownish-red, and white–and other cells of the brain in blue. Image is credited to Salk Institute.

Researchers say the randomness of the piriform cortex plays a critical role when it comes to distinguishing between similar odors.

A new study sheds light into how we recognize facial expressions of emotion. Researchers report our interpretation of emotions expressed facially by others depends upon our pre-conceived understanding of emotion.

Scientists in Israel have developed a breath test that can detect people with early-stage Parkinson’s disease.

A new study, published in the journal PNAS, suggests that a diagnostic blood test for depression may soon be on the horizon. The new research shows that treatment-resistant depression is characterized by reduced blood levels of a specific molecule.

‘Inattentional smell blindness’, or inattentional anosmia, has been proven to exist in a new study.

Yale researchers have tested a new method for directly measuring synaptic loss in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. The method, which uses PET imaging technology to scan for a specific protein in the brain linked to synapses, has the potential to accelerate research for new Alzheimer’s treatments.

A recent study finds that noninvasive brain stimulation, activated while asleep, improves memory performance the next day.

Finally this week, researchers have identified a neural link between depression and sleep problems. The study reports brain regions associated with short-term memory, self and negative emotions are strongly connected in those with depression, and this may lead to bad sleep quality.

Rewiring The Brain: Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

For decades, scientists thought that the adult human brain was static and unchanging. But in the last few decades, we have learned that the adult brain is more dynamic than we ever imagined.  In fact, the human brain is malleable and can change in response to new experiences.  It is adaptable, like plastic – hence the term “neuroplasticity.”

Learn more about neuroplasticity in this infographic.

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Weekly Neuroscience Update

buddhist-1807526_960_720.jpgResearchers have discovered differences in the brain’s emotional networks between those who do not meditate, novice meditators and those who have practiced meditation for a long time.

According to researchers, people find it easier to lie in a foreign language than their native tongue.

A new study could revolutionize understanding of how signal flow can be measured in the brain and could have an impact into the development of new artificial neural networks.

Scientists in the US have announced they’ve developed an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system that can tell how smart a person is just by looking at a scan of their brain.

Researchers have developed a new, non-surgical method to manipulate brain circuitry. The technique uses sound waves in combination with small bubble injections into the bloodstream that temporarily opens the blood-brain barrier.

A new study reports disrupted transportation routes in nerve cells are a significant cause of Parkinson’s disease.

According to researchers, vision and brain circuits perform regular background scans, making neurons available for focus based tasks. The process makes it possible for us to pay, and maintain attention.

Researchers report high density of neurons in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex play a significant role in resilient dyslexia.

Finally this week, a new study reports children who exhibit excessive self-control and have tendencies toward perfectionism are twice as likely to develop OCD by their teenage years.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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This colored “scalp map” (viewed from the top of a baby’s head with the nose forward), shows the average amount of brain activity measured by EEG sensors in response to touch to the baby’s body. The image shows that hand touch evokes activity on one side, foot touch evokes activity at the middle, and lip touch evokes very strong activity on both sides.  Image Source: UW Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences.

At 60 days old, the infant brain shows greater neurological activity associated with the lips than any other part of the body, a new study reveals.

Researchers report people with higher empathy process music with greater involvement in the brain’s reward system and areas of the brain associated with social information processing.

A new study reveals noradrenaline plays a vital role in early stages of perception. Researchers report later processing of visual information occurs in the cerebral cortex and is affected by noradrenaline to determine if an image will enter our stream of consciousness.

A new study reports a link between higher than average late life systolic blood pressure and higher number of tangles in Alzheimer’s disease.

Scientists have revealed the area of the brain that controls our voice box, allowing us to alter the pitch of our speech. The insight could pave the way for advancing neuroprosthetics to allow people who can’t speak, to express themselves in a naturalistic way

Researchers report brain areas involved in the articulation of language are also implicated in the perception of language.

A new neuroimaging study reveals every person has unique brain anatomy. The uniqueness is a result of a combination of genetic factors and life experiences.

A group of Japanese researchers has discovered that neural inflammation caused by our innate immune system plays an unexpectedly important role in stress-induced depression. This insight could potentially lead to the development of new antidepressants targeting innate immune molecules. The findings were published in the online edition of Neuron.

Contrary to popular belief, Adderall and other ADHD drugs do not improve cognition in healthy college students. Instead, they may impair cognitive function.

Finally this week, a new study reports when certain brain areas react more strongly to food rewards than financial rewards, children are more likely to overeat, even if they are not hungry or overweight.

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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A new study reveals children who are habitually barefoot show significantly different motor skills between the ages of 6-10 than those who are habitually shod. Researchers report those who habitually barefoot have better balance and jumping skills.

New research has found the natural vibrations of cars make people sleepier, affecting concentration and alertness levels just 15 minutes after drivers get behind the wheel.

Scientists have discovered a “Big Bang” of Alzheimer’s disease – the precise point at which a healthy protein becomes toxic but has not yet formed deadly tangles in the brain.

A new study reports people living in areas with more sunlight have lower rates of OCD.

Neuroscientists at the University of California-Berkeley are developing a technique that could give us the ability to fool our brain into thinking that we’d experienced something that never happened by manipulating electrical activity in the brain.

Researchers report boys on the autism spectrum tend to have lower fractal dimension in the right side of the cerebellum than those without autism.

Distinct molecular mechanisms can generate the same features in different neurons, a team of scientists has discovered. Its findings, which appear in the journal Cell, enhance our understanding of brain cell development.

Finally this week, a new study reports a short burst of exercise can dramatically improve long-term retention of new motor skills.

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

guitar-869217_960_720.jpgResearchers say those who can improvise are better musicians than those who have limited improvisational experience.

Melatonin is a hormone known to promote sleep, but its underlying mechanisms are unknown. Now, researchers have discovered how melatonin suppresses neurons in the brain that keeps you awake and alert. These findings could lead to new therapies for those who suffer from insomnia.

A new study shows how specific neurons can process sensory information about temperature and facilitate a change in behavior to adapt to the climate.

Researchers have identified electrical activity in the brain that is specific to the start of migraines. The new study reports spreading depolarization can be seen as a migraine begins, and an electrical current can be used to stop it in its tracks.

Adolescent drinking is associated with changes in the metabolite profile, a new study shows. 

Scientists are using big data and artificial intelligence to map neural networks in the brain. The new technology could help to better understand the progression of neurodegenerative diseases.

Sound and object motion can be used to change perceptions about body size, according to a new study.

Researchers report impairments in the neuroprotective communication between neural blood vessels, astrocytes and neurons may be an early factor in how high blood pressure may impair cognitive function.

A new study confirms a link between a number of autoimmune diseases and an increased risk of developing psychosis.

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) – the relaxing ‘brain tingles’ experienced by some people in response to specific triggers, such as whispering, tapping and slow hand movements – may have benefits for both mental and physical health, according to new research.

Researchers have developed new neural implants that enable targeted delivery of drugs deep into brain structures.

A new study reports specific alterations in signaling circuits associated with memory can induce an abnormal response in neurons, which is linked to the aging process and cognitive decline.

Researchers say the combination of low muscle mass and strength in the context of high-fat mass, could be a predictor of cognitive function in older adults. 

Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is associated with changes to the structure of the brain that are also seen in the early stages of dementia, according to a study published in the European Respiratory Journal.

Finally, this week, a new study reports a mother’s diet during pregnancy may have an effect on the composition of her child’s gut bacteria.