Weekly Neuroscience Update

A holographic image of the human brain. The image is credited to Case Western Reserve.

Researchers have used the HoloLense software to create an interactive holographic mapping system for axonal pathways in the human brain.

Does Parkinson’s disease (PD) start in the brain or the gut? In a new contribution published in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease, scientists hypothesize that PD can be divided into two subtypes: gut-first, originating in the peripheral nervous system (PNS) of the gut and spreading to the brain; and brain-first, originating in the brain, or entering the brain via the olfactory system, and spreading to the brainstem and peripheral nervous system.

In the largest study of its kind, researchers identified similarities in the brain activity of people with major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders.

A new theory, inspired by thermodynamics, takes a high-level perspective of how neural networks in the brain transiently organize to give rise to memories, thought and consciousness.

For the first time, researchers have extracted and isolated amyloid beta (Aβ) fibrils from the brains of three people who had died of Alzheimer’s disease.

A new study has revelled that deep sleep restores the medial prefrontal cortex mechanisms that restore emotion. This lowers emotional and physiological reactivity, preventing the escalation of stress and anxiety.

The largest brain imaging study of its kind may have found the reason why people with anxiety and mood disorders so often feel unable to escape negative thoughts and emotions.

Finally this week, researchers have now developed a novel computational approach to accelerate finding optimal stimuli, by building deep artificial neural networks that can accurately predict the neural responses produced by a biological brain to arbitrary visual stimuli.

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.

 

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

This image shows the developing brain visualized with fluorescence laser scanning microscopy. It illustrates the neurons (blue) and growing axons (red and green). Image INc-UAB.

Researchers have identified a new cell mechanism that connects Alzheimer’s disease and cancers.

The human brain can recognise a familiar song within 100 to 300 milliseconds, highlighting the deep hold favourite tunes have on our memory, a UCL study finds.

A new method allows researchers to detect serotonin at extremely low concentrations in serum.

New research shows for the first time that patients with mood and anxiety disorders share the same abnormalities in regions of the brain involved in emotional and cognitive control. The findings hold promise for the development of new treatments targeting these regions of the brain in patients with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and anxiety disorders.

Artificial intelligence is helping shed light on how people’s brains, bodies, and emotions react to listening to music. 

Researchers have identified a set of neurons, located in a region of the hypothalamus, that may be the switch that turns the brain off, allowing for sleep. The neurons are also tied to body temperature regulation.

According to new research, musical intervention can help to improve mood and decrease agitation in those with dementia.

Performance on two quick tests ― a cognitive screen and an olfactory test ― may rule out future dementia, including Alzheimer disease (AD), for patients with mild memory problems, results of a large follow-up study show.

Features of the functional connectome are present in the fetal brain during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.

Finally this week, a new study reveals how acetate, a byproduct of alcohol breakdown, travels to the brain’s learning system and alters proteins that regulate DNA function.

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween! In keeping with the Halloween theme, here is a slide-deck from my presentation entitled: Brain, belief and the nature of Frankenstein, which I gave last year 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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Oxford University researchers have discovered that learned knowledge is stored in different brain circuits depending on how we acquire it.

Neuroscientists say they have identified how people can have a “crash in visual processing” — a bottleneck of feedforward and feedback signals that can cause us not to be consciously aware of stimuli that our brain recognized.

A new study shows that an innovative strategy for treating Parkinson’s disease has proven successful in neurons that derive from people living with the condition.

A new study reveals the gut has a much more direct connection to the brain through a neural circuit that allows it to transmit signals in mere seconds. The findings could lead to new treatments for obesity, eating disorders, and even depression and autism—all of which have been linked to a malfunctioning gut.

New research shows musical improvisation improves cognitive flexibility and increases inhibitory control.

A UCLA-led study has found that MRI scans can help doctors distinguish whether a person’s memory loss is being caused by Alzheimer’s disease or by traumatic brain injury.

A new study suggests a longer duration of estrogen exposure hormone therapy was associated with better cognition in older adult women.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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A newly developed microfluidic device microfluidic device allowed researchers to keep tissue from the suprachiasmatic nucleus alive for over 25 days.

Neuroscientists have proved how different parts of the human brain work together to create and retrieve episodic memory.  Models suggested that, during formation of a memory, information is routed from cortex to hippocampus whilst retrieving a memory should see this information flow in reverse.

A collaborative study published today in the journal Cell Reports provides evidence for a new molecular cause for neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers have identified brain circuitry differences that might be associated with suicidal behavior in individuals with mood disorders. The study, published in Psychological Medicine, provides a promising lead toward tools that can predict which individuals are at the highest risk for suicide.

A period of wakeful rest can help reduce memory intrusions associated with PTSD.

Does dementia spread gradually and evenly in all directions across the brain, or can it “jump” from one brain area to another? New research helps to settle the question by examining the progression of frontotemporal dementia.

Examining postmortem brains of autism spectrum disorder patients, researchers discover an accumulation of immune cells surrounding blood vessels in the brain.

Your personality type may influence addiction to certain drugs, a new study reveals. Those whose personalities rank higher for impulsivity are more likely to use ecstasy, while those who score higher for neurotic traits are more likely to use opioid like heroin, researchers report.

Finally this week, researchers have mapped out some of the mechanisms that may affect women’s fertility from the teenage years to menopause.

 

 

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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MIT engineers have developed a technique that allows them to rapidly image many different proteins within a synapse.

A new rapid imaging technique allows researchers to view synaptic proteins at high resolution.

There may be some good news for people with vestibular migraine, a type of migraine that causes vertigo and dizziness with or without headache pain. A small, preliminary study suggests that non-invasive nerve stimulation may show promise as a treatment for vestibular migraine attacks, a condition for which there are currently no approved treatments.

New research uses artificial intelligence to identify patterns of brain activity that make people less responsive to certain antidepressants.

A new study challenges the belief that epileptic seizures can be predicted by brain wave patterns. Researchers report they have found no evidence that specific brain wave patterns can be a predictive indicator of seizure onset.

New research shows prepartum and postpartum physical and mental health was associated with persistent severe sleep problems in their babies.

In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers have pieced together a road map of typical brain development in children during a critical window of maturation. The study shows how a “wave of brain maturation” directly underlies important social and behavioral changes children develop during the transition from childhood to adolescence.

Finally, this week, a new study highlights the role estrogen plays in the differences in the progression of Parkinson’s disease between men and women.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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A team of neuroscientists from Göttingen and Tehran has shown. how our brain combines visual features to achieve a unified percept.

Research published in the journal Cerebral Cortex has shown that stronger functional connectivity—that is, communication among neurons in various networks of the brain—is linked to youthful memory in older adults. Those with superior memories—called superagers—have the strongest connectivity.

Scientists have found a link between brain’s emotion circuit and movement.

High-fat diets are not only bad for your waistline, they are also bad for your brain health. A new study reveals high-fat diets contribute to hypothalamic inflammation which occurs long before symptoms of obesity arise.

Patients with schizophrenia show increased brain activity in central areas of the brain, but lower activity in the temporal sulcus when hearing metaphors.

Researchers have developed a system that measures a patient’s pain level by analyzing brain activity from a portable neuroimaging device. The system could help doctors diagnose and treat pain in unconscious and noncommunicative patients, which could reduce the risk of chronic pain that can occur after surgery.

Finally this week, a new study reports maternal marijuana use may be detrimental to the brain development of children.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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A new brain mapping experiment shows that whether you read or listen to a book, the same parts of the brain are stimulated to help you understand and respond to the meaning of the words

Poor oral health has been linked to cognitive decline and increased symptoms of stress.

The brains’ of first degree relatives of those with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder differ from those with no family history of the disorders. Relatives of those with bipolar disorder tend to have larger intracranial volume, while those who had a relative with schizophrenia had smaller brain volume.

Minute-to-minute fluctuations in human brain activity, linked to changing levels of dopamine, impact whether we make risky decisions, finds a new study.

Meditation and yoga practice is associated with smaller right amygdala volume, a brain region involved in emotional processing, according to research published in Brain Imaging and Behavior.

Tiny changes in the microscopic structure of the human brain may affect how patients respond to an emerging therapy for neurological problems.

The brains of people with epilepsy appear to react to music differently from the brains of those who do not have the disorder, a finding that could lead to new therapies to prevent seizures.

Major depressive disorder has been linked to at least 22 distinct diseases, including asthma, coronary heart disease, and an increased risk of E. coli infection.

Researchers have identified a specific area of the brain responsible for auditory verbal hallucinations in people with schizophrenia. The researchers were able to control the hallucinations with the help of transcranial magnetic stimulation.

A new study challenges the existing theory that testosterone levels are linked to reduced cognitive empathy.

Finally this week, new research provides insights into what happens in our brains when curiosity is piqued. The findings could help scientists find ways to enhance overall learning and memory in both healthy individuals and those with neurological conditions.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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A demonstration of the hippocampus and LEC. The image is credited to University of Warwick.

A new theory and model helps explain how entorhinal time ramping cells produce hippocampal time cells. The hippocampal cells allow for memory association between places and people to help recall event sequences.

Researchers shed light on why we need to sleep and discuss the effects of sleep deprivation.

In a groundbreaking finding, researchers have identified a new sensory organ under the skin that can detect pain as a result of impact or pinpricks. The organ comprises of glial cells with multiple long protrusions which collectively make up the mesh-like organ under the skin.

A 3D map of how the brain responds to words could unlock new ways to understand and treat dyslexia and speech disorders.

A visual test may be a new tool in the diagnosis of autism. Individuals on the autism spectrum are slower to dampen neural activity in response to visual stimuli in the brain. Using EEG data collected from the visual region, researchers could predict with 87% accuracy whether or not a person had ASD.

Contrary to popular belief, a new study reveals higher levels of testosterone may make people more sensitive to moral norms.

Boosting a single molecule in the brain can change “dispositional anxiety,” the tendency to perceive many situations as threatening, in nonhuman primates, researchers have found.

Finally this week, a new study suggests there may be genetic explanations for why some children with poor language also have poor mental health.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Researchers have demonstrated a universal decoding system in humans that determines how we perceive vibrations of different frequencies through touch.

A new study by researchers at the University of Eastern Finland is the first to observe that dietary intake of phosphatidylcholine is associated with a reduced risk of dementia. Phosphatidylcholine was also linked to enhanced cognitive performance. The main dietary sources of phosphatidylcholine were eggs and meat. The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Scientists have identified a group of proteins that help to regenerate damaged nerve cells. Their findings are reported in the journal Neuron.

Difficulty sleeping in a new environment is so common that neuroscientists have a name for it: the ”first-night effect” (FNE). New research shows FNE is basically the neurological equivalent of sleeping with one eye open. When you go to sleep for the first time in a new environment only half of your brain really rests, according to a study recently published in Current Biology.

Rhythms in gene expression in the brain are highly disrupted in people with schizophrenia, according to a new study.

Moderate exercise is not only good for memory as people age, it also appears to help prevent the development of physical signs of Alzheimer’s, known as biomarkers, in those who are at risk for the disease, according to research presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

Finally this week, a new study identifies 69 genes linked to increased autism risk, including 16 new genes previously not believed to be associated with ASD.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Cortisol levels associated with stress are reduced after interacting with cats and dogs, researchers report.

A headset that stimulates the ear canal improves both motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The effects of the stimulation appear to have a lasting effect following treatment.

Atypical eating behaviors may be a sign a child should be screened for autism, according to a new study from Penn State College of Medicine.

Researchers have identified a cell population that likely plays a key role in multiple sclerosis (MS). T helper cells in the blood of MS patients infiltrate the central nervous system, where they can cause inflammation and damage nerve cells. This discovery opens up new avenues for monitoring and treating MS patients.

Automated robotic technology allows researchers to identify new pathways activated when the brain rewires circuits in response to experience.

A potential link has been identified between obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and major depressive disorder. Treating OSA may help to improve depressive symptoms, as well as reduce suicidal thoughts and improve sleep for those with insomnia.

Researchers are looking at how neuroscience can help with artificial intelligence technology and vice versa.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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A new study finds sound waves from the voice effectively transmit information beyond the lexical meaning of words.

A new study offers clues about how to prevent inflammation of brain tissue, which promotes Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The findings of this study online now and appearing in the September 4, 2019 print issue of the journal Neuron, could contribute to the development of new therapies for AD.

Partial sight has been restored to six blind people via an implant that transmits video images directly to the brain.

People with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease perform worse on learning tasks than those without a genetic link to the disease. The learning impairments appear to be exacerbated by the APOE E4 gene and diabetes.

Restless REM sleep disrupts the adjustment of memory traces during sleep. This may increase negative emotions associated with mental health disorders.

Functional regions within the brain become less distinct and inter-connected in the elderly over time, especially in those networks related to attention span and cognition. The finding, published by researchers at Duke-NUS Medical School in the Journal of Neuroscience, adds to the current understanding of longitudinal decline in brain network integrity associated with aging.

Researchers at EPFL’s Blue Brain Project, a Swiss Brain Research Initiative, have developed a new framework to work out how a single neuron in the brain operates.

Finally this week, with the help of data collected from an online app, researchers have developed a machine learning algorithm which is 90% accurate in determining subsets of behavior associated with autism.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Neurodegeneration sets in earlier for those with unhealthy diets and lifestyle choices.

A new study shows a particularly marked impairment of moral emotions in patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD). The results, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, open a new approach for early, sensitive and specific diagnosis of FTD.

People with a genetic predisposition for Alzheimer’s disease may exhibit changes in memory up-to four decades before the typical age of dementia onset.

Without being aware of it, people sometimes wrongly perceive tactile sensations. A new study in the scientific journal “Current Biology” shows how healthy people can sometimes misattribute touch to the wrong side of their body, or even to a completely wrong part of the body.

A new study has found that information acts on the brain’s dopamine-producing reward system in the same way as money or food.

A link between disease activity in those with inflammatory bowel disease and less positive biases in emotional regulation could explain a higher risk of depression in those with IBD.

Researchers have identified a rare genetic mutation which occurs in clinical disorders with psychotic features, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

A newly developed mathematical framework describes the ecology of the microbiome coupled to its host. The approach allows researchers to evaluate the microbiome-host interaction landscape and examine why diverse microbiome are associated with similar health outcomes.

Combining multiple artificial intelligence agents sheds light on the aging process and can help further understanding of what contributes to healthy aging.

A novel surgical technique that connects functioning nerves with injured nerves helps restore function to paralyzed muscles. Following surgery, 13 young adults with tetraplegia now have restored hand and elbow function, allowing them to feed themselves, hold a drink and write.

Finally this week, exposure to unpleasant smells is associated with better memory recall 24 hours later.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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A new study reports babies’ brains are sensitive to different emotional tones they hear in voices. Researchers suggest maternal interactions may help to shape the same brain region adults use for emotional processing.

Researchers report brain alterations associated with heightened feelings of negative emotion and alienation in people who have a dependence on cannabis.

Further evidence that the brain undergoes a continuous phase transition when we awaken from sleep has been discovered.

A new deep learning algorithm can predict those at risk of psychosis with 93% accuracy by examining the latent semantic content of an individual’s speech.

Scientists in Sweden have found that some viruses can increase the buildup of protein ‘plaques’ linked to Alzheimer’s disease, a discovery that could lead to new vaccines treating the condition.

Individual differences in the striatum of habitual cannabis users distinguish between who is at increased risk of addiction and cannabis use disorder.

A new study reports areas of the brain housing alertness and determination may be on the right side for left dominant people. The new theory suggests the location of a person’s neural system for emotion depends on their handedness.

Finally this week, new research shows that 2 hours a week is a key dose of nature for health and wellbeing.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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An international team of researchers has found the Internet can produce both acute and sustained alterations in specific areas of cognition, which may reflect changes in the brain, affecting our attentional capacities, memory processes, and social interactions.

Memory performance can be enhanced by rhythmic neural stimulation, using both invasive and non-invasive techniques.

A new study has found that infants at high risk for autism were less attuned to differences in speech patterns than low-risk infants. The findings suggest that interventions to improve language skills should begin during infancy for those at high risk for autism.

A new ultrasound method restores dopaminergic pathway in the brain at Parkinson’s early stages.

Neuroimaging reveals a significantly diminished response in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex in children on the autism spectrum. The findings could be used as a biomarker for diagnosing ASD.

A correlative link has been discovered between weak upper and lower body physical performance, and an increase in depression and anxiety during midlife.

Researchers have examined new evidence about how low-grade inflammation could impact a person’s level of motivation. This may also have implications for the treatment of some cases of depression.

Finally this week, new research has suggested that virtual reality may play a crucial role in monitoring Alzheimer’s disease.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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New neurons continue to be formed in the hippocampus into the tenth decade of life, even in people with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. The image is credited to Orly Lazarov, et al.

Hippocampal neurogenesis continues to occur well into old age, and in those with Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers found evidence of neurogenesis in people up to the age of 99. While neurogenesis continues to occur in those with Alzheimer’s disease, it is significantly reduced compared to those who have normal cognitive function.

Using non-invasive transcranial direct current stimulation to target the left rostrolateral prefrontal cortex improves memory retrieval.

People who have bipolar disorder may be more likely to later develop Parkinson’s disease than people who do not have bipolar disorder, according to a new study.

Cells in the body are wired like computer chips to direct signals that instruct how they function, research suggests.

Chronic insomnia disorder, which affects approximately 10 percent of adults, has a direct negative impact on cognitive function of people aged 45 and over, independent of the effect of other health issues. This is the primary finding from an analysis of sleep data from the pan-Canadian cohort of the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging.

Researchers have made an important advance in understanding the roles that gut bacteria play in human health.

People with mild cognitive impairment who had positive biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease in their cerebrospinal fluid performed worse on virtual reality navigation tasks. Virtual reality which incorporates navigational tasks could prove a helpful tool in the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease for those at risk.

Optical illusions are helping researchers better understand attention and visual perception

Finally, this week, while learning a second language has positive benefits for children, there is little evidence that bilingual children have more advanced executive function or improved attention over those who are monolingual.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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The image is adapted from the University of Toronto news release.

An experiment led by University of Toronto psychologists has shown for the first time that grapheme-colour synesthesia  –   a condition in which individuals sense colours associated with letters and numbers – provides a clear advantage in statistical learning – an ability to discern patterns – which is a critical aspect of learning a language. The result provides insight into how we learn, and how children and adults may learn differently.

Scientists might have found an early detection method for some forms of dementia.

Neuroimaging helps researchers observe what happens in the brain as a person is rotated. The study, which gives insight into how the brain moves after the head stops moving, also provides critical information for advancing studies of TBI.

Esketamine combined with antidepressants acts rapidly to help alleviate symptoms in those with treatment-resistant depression.

Inflammation appears to reduce reward response in females. Reduced activity in the brain’s reward system is a key component of anhedonia, the loss of enjoyment in activities, a core feature of depression. The findings may explain why depression is more prevalent in women than in men.

A new study has found that a new nerve stimulation therapy to increase blood flow could help patients with the most common type of stroke up to 24 hours after onset.

The results of a new study suggest that virtual reality could make life easier for people with dementia. The authors conclude that virtual reality helped the participants recall memories and contributed to an improvement in patients’ relationships with caregivers.

Researchers have identified average levels of biological and anatomical brain changes with Alzheimer’s disease over 30 years before symptoms appear.

Magnetic stimulation of the brain improves working memory, offering a new potential avenue of therapy for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, according to new research.

Sleep in teenagers can be improved by just one week of limiting their evening exposure to light-emitting screens on phones, tablets and computers,

Finally this week, using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), scientists have captured 3D images that show how infants’ brains and skulls change shape as they move through the birth canal just before delivery.

 

 

This Is Your Brain on Pokémon

Adults who played Pokémon video games extensively as children have a brain region that responds preferentially to images of Pikachu and other characters from the series.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Human Behavior, help shed light on mysteries about our visual system.

The first Pokémon game was released in 1996 and played by children as young as 5 years old, many of whom continued to play later versions of the game well into their teens and even early adulthood.

The games not only exposed these children to the same characters over and over again, it rewarded them when they won a Pokémon battle or added a new character to the in-game encyclopedia called the Pokédex.

Furthermore, every child played the games on the same handheld device – the Nintendo Game Boy – which had the same small square screen and required them to hold the devices at roughly the same arm’s length. Playing Pokémon on a tiny screen means that the Pokémon characters only take up a very small part of the player’s center of view. The eccentricity bias theory thus predicts that preferential brain activations for Pokémon should be found in the part of the visual cortex that processes objects in our central, or foveal, vision.

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The occipitotemporal sulcus (OTS) of adults who played Pokémon extensively as children activated more (right) upon seeing images of Pokémon characters from their childhood videogames compared to adults who did not (left). (Image credit: Jesse Gomez)

The new findings are just the latest evidence that our brains are capable of changing in response to experiential learning from a very early age, but that there are underlying constraints hardwired into the brain that shape and guide how those changes unfold.

Read more on this story at https://news.stanford.edu/2019/05/06/regular-pokemon-players-pikachu-brain 

Why is Alzheimer’s still a medical mystery?

Decades of scientific research into Alzheimer’s have failed to find a cure. Little is known about the degenerative brain disease—but this may be about to change.

As populations have aged, dementia has soared to become the fifth leading cause of death worldwide. Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia, accounts for most of these cases. All attempts to halt the progression of the disease have failed. Now many major drug companies have pulled out of research altogether.

So why is Alzheimer’s disease still such a medical mystery?

One of the signs of Alzheimer’s in the brain is damage of connections and the loss of large numbers of neurons over time. It affects the hippocampus and its connected structures making it harder to form new memories or learn new information. As damage spreads through the brain the cortex becomes thinner and more memories are lost. Although emotional responses can often remain. As the brain shrinks further it slowly alters personality and behaviour and eventually the ability to live and function independently.

For 35 years there has been scientific disagreement about the origins of the disease. The main area of debate has focused on the abnormal build up of clumps of protein called amyloid plaques often found in brains of those affected by Alzheimer’s. But all attempts to target this protein with drugs have failed. A new study is now challenging the way science thinks about the disease. The study suggests that the bacterium Porphyromonas gingivalis, which is involved in gum disease, may contribute to Alzheimer’s.

The risk of Alzheimer’s is higher in those who have severe head injuries and also for those with an arterial disease known as atherosclerosis. This suggests there are many causes with one endpoint. And scientists hope that finding an underlying cause that could tie these together will hold the key to better treatments in the future.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Music and mindful music listening may help people who have suffered strokes recover their impaired cognitive abilities more effectively, new research suggests.

The loss of memory and cognitive function known to afflict survivors of septic shock is the result of a sugar that is released into the bloodstream and enters the brain during the life-threatening condition. This finding, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, explains the premature mental aging that follows septic shock and may shed light on memory loss in other diseases.

Researchers have identified a new autoimmune disease that causes muscle pain and weakness.

Scientists used brain signals recorded from epilepsy patients to program a computer to mimic natural speech–an advancement that could one day have a profound effect on the ability of certain patients to communicate.

Scientists have created a “neural decoder” that translates brain activity into speech.

Autism diagnosis becomes stable starting at 14 months of age, researchers report. The accurate diagnosis of ASD, four months earlier than previously believed, leads to more opportunities for early interventions.

A new two-tier diagnostic blood test which evaluates both amyloid beta and tau, can help detect Alzheimer’s disease in presymptomatic patients.

Researchers are officially defining a new brain disorder that mimics Alzheimer’s disease. The disorder will be known as LATE, which stands for limbic-predominant age-related TDP-43 encephalopathy.

Finally this week, a new deep learning algorithm can reliably determine what visual stimuli neurons in the visual cortex respond best to.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Image: Pixabay

How quickly do we experience the benefits of exercise? A new study of healthy older adults shows that just one session of exercise increased activation in the brain circuits associated with memory – including the hippocampus – which shrinks with age and is the brain region attacked first in Alzheimer’s disease.

Using a unique computational framework they developed, a team of scientist cyber-sleuths has identified 104 high-risk genes for schizophrenia.

Reduced connectivity between the amygdala and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex has been identified in children on the autism spectrum who exhibit disruptive behaviors, compared to those on the spectrum who do not. Findings suggest this distinct brain network could be independent of core autism symptoms.

A specially designed computer program can help diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans by analyzing their voices.

Using CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing, researchers identified actionable pathways responsible for the growth of glioblastoma stem cells. By reverse engineering brain cancer cells, multiple potential new targets for cancer treatments have been uncovered.

Obesity is associated with alterations in brain structure, including lower grey matter volume and smaller globus pallidus volume according to new research. 

Researchers have found certain clues in the brain waves that show the reason why angry dreams occur when a person sleeps. The results of the study titled, “EEG Frontal Alpha Asymmetry and Dream Affect: Alpha Oscillations Over the Right Frontal Cortex During REM Sleep and Pre-Sleep Wakefulness Predict Anger in REM Sleep Dreams,” were published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

People with the specific genotype of the Cannabinoid receptor 1 gene may be more prone to cannabis use disorder.

A rapid memory system transition from the hippocampus to the posterior parietal cortex is stabilized as we sleep. Sleep and repeated rehearsal of memory jointly contribute to long-term memory consolidation.

A new study confirms that a simple blood test can reveal whether there is accelerating nerve cell damage in the brain. 

Finally, this week, using a combination of movie clips and neuroimaging, researchers find people have positive biases to those they feel are more like them, even if they are unable to see the person’s face.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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How well-connected a particular brain network is, and how successfully memories are formed, may determine which patients with post-traumatic stress disorder benefit from behavioral therapy, researchers have found.

A new paper discusses the potential of deep brain stimulation in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, OCD, Tourette syndrome and other disorders.

Reduced blood capillaries in the back of the eye may be a new, noninvasive way to diagnose early cognitive impairment, the precursor to Alzheimer’s disease in which individuals become forgetful, reports a newly published study.

Animal-assisted therapy can foster social competence in patients with brain injuries and increase their emotional involvement during therapy. 

CGRP, a protein associated with migraine pain, appears to act differently between sexes. Researchers say a female-specific mechanism of downstream CGRP receptor activation is likely to contribute to the higher prevalence of migraine in women.

A new model sheds light on the evolutionary origins of empathy and other associated phenomena. 

A team of scientists has shown that when deep-brain stimulation is applied to a specific brain region, it improves patients’ cognitive control over their behavior by increasing the power of a specific low-frequency brain rhythm in their prefrontal cortex.

Researchers have increased understanding of how computing technology could be used to help people with depression remember happy memories.

A study has found that childhood trauma is linked to abnormal connectivity in the brain in adults with major depressive disorder (MDD). The paper, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), is the first data-driven study to show symptom-specific, system-level changes in brain network connectivity in MDD.

Finally this week, the findings of an EEG study on two-month-old babies reveal the impact of maternal stress on early neurodevelopment.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Much like opaque filters we apply to pictures on social media, the vibrancy of our memories dims and fades over time. The image reflects 12 levels of visual salience, or vibrancy, used to rate how memories fade. The image is credited to Psychological Science.

Low-level visual information fades in memory over time. However, negative emotion increases subjective memory vividness.

Musical training produces lasting improvements to a cognitive mechanism that helps individuals be more attentive and less likely to be distracted by irrelevant stimuli while performing demanding tasks.

Neurobiologists have studied the formation of inhibitory synapses, a complex process that occurs when the brain adapts. 

The synesthesia effect of being able to ‘hear’ silent movements may depend upon disinhibition of signaling between the visual and auditory brain regions. A new study found musicians are more likely to experience the ‘visual ear’ phenomena than those with no musical training.

Using OCT angiography to quantify capillary changes in the back of the eye can help in the detection, and monitor the progression, of Alzheimer’s disease.

Polygenetic risk scores calculated from adults can be used to identify children and adolescents who may be at greater risk of developing depression, even before clinical symptoms have emerged.

An uncommon variant of the PDE11A gene impacts both quality and duration of sleep. 

Scientists have discovered the key brain region for navigating well-known places, helping explain why brain damage seen in early stages of Alzheimer’s disease can cause such severe disorientation.

Finally this week, a team of researchers has found what they describe as a link between the “locus of control” in adolescents and their use of tobacco and alcohol.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Robotic body surrogates can help people with profound motor deficits interact with the world. Here, Henry Evans, a California man who helped Georgia Tech researchers with improvements to a web-based interface, uses the robot to shave himself.  

People with profound motor deficits reported an improved quality of life while using robotic body surrogates.

A new study reports babies’ brains are sensitive to different emotional tones they hear in voices. Researchers suggest maternal interactions may help to shape the same brain region adults use for emotional processing.

Researchers are finding new evidence that exercise — even low-intensity, casual physical activity — can boost brain health in the short- and long-term.

The brain chemical serotonin, a neurotransmitter is long known for its role in passing signals between neurons in the brain, can also regulate expression of genes within neurons in an unexpected way, according to research conducted by neuroscientists at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and published on March 13 in the journal Nature.

New patterns of brain aging across the human lifespan have been revealed by scientists analysing microstructural changes in the brain’s white matter.

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.

Oxford University scientists have discovered a brain process common to sleep and aging in research that could pave the way for new treatments for insomnia.

Finally this week, a new review, which appears in The BMJ journal, examines the benefits of non-invasive brain stimulation for treating major depression and finds that the technique is a valid alternative to existing treatments.

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.