The Neurobiology of Kindness #WorldKindnessDay

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

Why does Kindness Exist?

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

The Neurobiology of Kindness

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

Kindness is the Engine for Personal Growth

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

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

Survival of the Kindest

Why is kindness so important? This question can be answered in the context that every single human being is unique because we each poses a uniquely complex brain, so complex that in all of human history no two human brains can be identical. This is because the unique combination of about 100 trillion tiny brain connections (synapses) that grow and change throughout life is an ongoing work in progress from conception to death. In this way we each one of us ‘evolve’ as true individuals as we each make our journey through life. Kindness is the green light to keep going. If you are not open to giving and receiving kindness then you may not be growing. In the same way, humankind will only evolve by making room for each and every individual to express their intellectual and spiritual evolution to the full.  In this way, the evolution of the human race has everything to do with being open to giving and receiving kindness.

 


References

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

 

 

 

How Stress Affects The Brain #StressAwarenessDay

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

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brain, belief and the nature of Frankenstein

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

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Weekly Neuroscience Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To “Vaccinate” Yourself Against Depression #WorldMentalHealthDay

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

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

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

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

Treatment is available and recovery is possible.

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

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

The importance of the frontal lobe in depression

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

Wisconsin Study

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

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

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

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rewiring The Brain: Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

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

Learn more about neuroplasticity in this infographic.

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Weekly Neuroscience Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Researchers report the brain’s reward network could play an influential role in evaluating the opportunity to gain new information, just as it does to evaluate rewards such as food or financial gain.

Scientists are beginning to understand the neuroscience behind sensory processing disorder and are developing new therapies to help those with it.

A new study shows Alzheimer’s disease does not appear to affect the salience network. Researchers found, when listening to music, the salience network along with other networks, show higher functional connectivity in Alzheimer’s patients.

A new study reveals maternal diet during pregnancy can have implications for fetal brain development and can impact short-term memory in adults.

Scientists have uncovered dozens of genes that increase the risk of depression — a major finding that underscores the complexity of the disease and reveals why antidepressant therapies work well for some people but are utterly ineffective for others.

Researchers report the critical period of language learning may be longer than previously believed. A new study reveals children remain skilled at learning new languages until age 18.

Treatment for the most common mental health problems could be ineffective or even detrimental to about 50 percent of the population, according to a radical new model of emotion in the brain.

Finally this week, researchers report high sugar and fat based diets that lead to obesity, coupled with the normal aging process, may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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In a new study, scientists have discovered why the brain’s olfactory system is so remarkably consistent between individuals, even though the wiring of brain cells in this region differs greatly from person to person.

Scientists have proposed a new communication model to explain how brain networks can be navigated to achieve efficient information transfer.

Researchers have discovered another purpose for the gut-brain axis; relaying information to the hippocampus to store information about our environment and location.

A new study reports speech comprehension can improve as much as 10% when sound is delayed relative to vision.

Parkinson’s disease progresses differently in women than in men. A current study has now furnished the first neurophysiological evidence supporting this finding. “Numerous demographic studies have provided evidence that men contract Parkinson’s disease nearly twice as often as women.

A new study reveals the role the anterior cingulate cortex and basolateral amygdala play in observational learning.

Researchers say schizophrenia should not be considered to be just a disorder of the mind, as schizophrenia can also impact other organs. A new study reveals people with schizophrenia often have an over active immune system and other physical disorders.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation allows researchers to better understand how brain networks interact to make word choice decisions.

A new study reveals, in combination with genetics and environmental factors, placenta health during fetal development may play a role in schizophrenia. Researchers report genes associated with schizophrenia may turn on in the placenta during complicated pregnancies.

Researchers report a simple saliva test that measures cortisol levels at specific times of the day, can identify those at risk of stress and depression.

A new study reveals older adults with greater symptoms of depression have a smaller brain volume and a 55% greater chance of vascular lesions in the brain than those who do not have depression.

New research reveals the prefrontal cortex may play a role in coordinating the level of consciousness through the cholinergic system.

Finally this week, researchers report meditation and yoga are more effective at reducing stress than Chi in soldiers. Additionally, those who meditate showed stronger executive control.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

brain-waves-memory-neurosciencenews.jpgAlpha and theta oscillations move rhythmically across the brain, reflecting neural activity propagating across the cortex to help form working memory, a new study reports.

Researchers have developed a new computational model of major depressive disorder. The model reveals older memories, as well as short term memories, are affected by major depressive disorder. Researchers say how long the memory deficits go back depends on how long the depressive episode lasts.

A new brain cancer atlas maps out comprehensive, visually rich information about the anatomical and genetic bases of glioblastoma, researchers report.

A new study reports people who have a family history of alcohol use disorder release more dopamine in the ventral striatum as a response to the expectation of receiving an alcoholic drink than those without a family history of alcoholism.

A drug that blocks the alpha7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor may provide a new method for combating drug addiction relapse, researchers report.

A groundbreaking study reveals human immune cells in the blood can be transformed into functional neurons within 3 weeks by adding four proteins. The discovery could be used to generate neurons to study specific psychological and neurological disorders, researchers say.

Researchers report transcranial magnetic stimulation predisposes neural connections in the visual cortex for reorganization.

Researchers have created a new model that may help explain how the brain stores memories of tangible events. The new model explains how neural activity in the hippocampus can help map space, time and context in episodic memories.

A new study reveals people respond to stimuli in another person’s peripersonal space as they could their own.

Research has shown that a developing child’s brain structure and function can be adversely affected when the child is raised in an environment lacking adequate education, nutrition and access to health care.

Finally this week, researchers report intuition is the result of information processing in the brain that results in prediction based on previous experience.

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Image credited to Ruth Litovsky (via NeuroscienceNews.com)

A new technique synchronizes cochlear signals in those with implants, stimulating the brain in a way that is similar to hearing people. This can allow those with cochlear implants to hear in stereo.

According to a new study, melatonin works by suppressing neurons that keep you awake and alert. The findings could pave the way for new treatments for insomnia.

When viewing OCD related images, those with the disorder had increased distress and higher levels of activity in emotion-related brain regions than their siblings who did not suffer from OCD, researchers report.

Magnetic resonance imaging can be used to detect the development of psychosis in the brains of high-risk patients at an early stage, according to a new study. 

Researchers have identified the mechanisms behind how noise-induced hearing loss occurs and have shown a simple injection to the middle ear may help to preserve hearing following exposure to loud blast noises.

A new article looks at theories of consciousness and novel research aimed at providing a better understanding of the roots of consciousness.

Sleep is known to be important for creative thinking, but exactly how it helps and what role each sleep stage–REM and non-REM–plays remains unclear. A team of researchers has now developed a hypothesis to explain how the interleaving of REM and non-REM sleep might facilitate creative problem-solving in different but complementary ways.

A study of Parkinson’s patients reveals neural activity alternates between the right and left sides of the brain as we walk.

A new study has linked the APOE4 gene to mental health issues some people face following TBI. Researchers report people with the APOE4 gene had significantly higher scores for depression, PTSD and anxiety following TBI than those without the genetic variant.

Finally this week, a group of researchers has uncovered a new way of telling how well people are learning English: tracking their eyes.

A new study reports people who have a family history of alcohol use disorder release more dopamine in the ventral striatum as a response to the expectation of receiving an alcoholic drink than those without a family history of alcoholism

A new study reveals children who are either overweight or obese during the first two years of life may have problems with memory and learning at the age of 5. Researchers say IQ scored may be lower for higher weight children.

A new study reveals older adults with greater symptoms of depression have a smaller brain volume and a 55% greater chance of vascular lesions in the brain than those who do not have depression.

Researchers report the critical period of language learning may be longer than previously believed. A new study reveals children remain skilled at learning new languages until age 18.

Research has shown that a developing child’s brain structure and function can be adversely affected when the child is raised in an environment lacking adequate education, nutrition and access to health care.

Scientists have uncovered dozens of genes that increase the risk of depression — a major finding that underscores the complexity of the disease and reveals why antidepressant therapies work well for some people but are utterly ineffective for others.

A new study reports Alzheimer’s disease does not appear to affect the salience network. Researchers found, when listening to music, the salience network along with other networks, show higher functional connectivity in Alzheimer’s patients.

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

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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AI research has come full circle, helping neuroscientist better understand how the human brain works, researchers say.

Babies removed from their mothers for 24 hours when they were 9 days old exhibited significant behavioral and brain structural abnormalities in adulthood, a new study reports. Researchers noted memory impairment and less communication between specific brain regions in those removed from maternal care.

Researchers have identified three genes linked to hemiplegic migraine.

People whose negative emotional responses to stress carry over to the following day are more likely to report health problems and physical limitations later in life compared with peers who are able to “let it go,” according to findings published in Psychological Science.

Using electrical fields to simulate slow wave sleep, researchers enhance memory.

A new study has identified a link between visual processing problems and an increased risk of developing a mental health disorder. The study reports the risk for mental illness increases when the visual cortex has difficulty communicating with networks associated with focus and introspection.

The superior size and complexity of the human brain compared to other mammals may actually originate from fewer initial starting materials, new research has suggested.

According to researchers, dopamine neurons may play a key role in the formation of episodic memory. The findings could help in the development of new treatments for neurodegenerative disorders that affect memory.

A new study reveals up to 25% of rhythmic genes lose their biological rhythm following a 4-day night shift simulation.

Damage to some of the pathways that carry information throughout the brain may be responsible for attention deficit in patients who have had a subcortical stroke in the brain’s right hemisphere, according to a study published online in the journal Radiology. Researchers hope the findings may provide a measure for selecting suitable patients for early interventions aimed at reducing cognitive decline following a stroke.

Finally this week, a new machine learning study has revealed a novel combination of factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing dementia.

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

pianist-1149172_960_720Trained pianists have higher levels of brain wave synchronization when improvising pieces of music, a new study reveals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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A new study reports people who sit down too much during middle to older age show signs of thinning in the medial temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with the formation of new memories.

Researchers explore the neuroscience behind binge eating and the triggers that might make us reach for comfort foods.

According to a new study, children with executive function deficits were more likely to show physical and reactive aggression later in life. Researchers suggest helping children to improve executive function could help to reduce aggression levels.

Olfactory system neurons appear to play a role in the connection between rhythmic breathing and emotional regulation, researchers report.

Researchers report newly identified risk factors differ from currently known genetic causes of autism. The variants identified do not alter the genes directly, but disrupt the neighboring DNA control elements that turn genes on or off. Additionally, the variants do not occur as new mutations in autistic children, but are inherited from parents.

A new study reveals we quickly process opinions we agree with as facts, even if the opinion is non-factual.

New research implicates the hippocampus in conceptual memory formation. The study reveals activity within the hippocampus and ventromedial prefrontal cortex is consistent with the retrieval of new concepts.

Researchers report the later a women enters into natural menopause, the better, on average, her verbal memory is later in life.

A new study adds to growing evidence that early exposure to pollution can increase both suicide risks in younger people and Alzheimer’s disease as people age.

Finally this week, new research reveals specific parts of the hippocampus may play a key role in emotional regulation.

 

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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An astrocyte (green) interacts with a synapse (red), producing an optical signal (yellow). NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to UCLA/Khakh lab.

Researchers have developed a new method that allows them to see how astrocytes influence neural communication in real time.

The chronic neurodegenerative Parkinson’s disease affects an increasing number of people. However, scientists still do not know why some people develop Parkinson’s disease. Now researchers have taken an important step towards a better understanding of the disease.

Researchers have published a new research framework that defines Alzheimer’s disease by brain changes, not symptoms.

The risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, was significantly higher in people who had experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI) than with people who had no history of TBI, according to one of the largest studies to date on that association.

A new voice manipulation algorithm allows researchers to visualize the neural codes people use to judge others by the tone of their voices.

UCLA researchers have developed a way to use brain scans and machine learning — a form of artificial intelligence — to predict whether people with OCD will benefit from cognitive behavior therapy. The technique could help improve the overall success rate of cognitive behavioral therapy, and it could enable therapists to tailor treatment to each patient.

Researchers report synchrony of brain waves within three regions of the brain can ‘break down’ when visual working memory load becomes too extensive to handle.

A new study reveals our brains process weak visual stimuli better in the evenings and mornings than during daylight hours. Researchers say the transition from light to dark has greater influence on visual perception than previously believed.

A new neuroimaging study reveals babies with Fragile X syndrome have less developed white matter in the brain compared to children without the condition.

Finally this week, a new study builds on previous findings that demonstrate EEG recordings of the rostral anterior cingulate cortex can predict eventual response to treatments for depression.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Researchers report running can help mitigate the impact chronic stress has on the hippocampus.

A small study recently published in Translational Psychiatry showed that people living with schizophrenia could use a video game paired with an MRI scanner to curb verbal hallucinations.

A Neuron study reports brain-machine interface technology may shed light on how mentally running through a routine improves performance.

Neuroscientists have demonstrated the astounding flexibility of the brain by training neurons that normally process input from the eyes to develop new skills, in this case, to control a computer-generated tone.

Researchers report our inner thoughts and interpretations of our experiences have consequences for both physical and mental health.

A new study finds listening to music may help people extend the time they are capable of enduring a cardiac stress test. The study also reports the findings could help healthy people to exercise for longer periods of time.

Concussions and other traumatic brain injuries may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease earlier in life, according to a study.

Researchers report elevated dopamine levels may make those with schizophrenia rely more on expectations, which results in them experiencing auditory hallucinations.

A new study will examine how the brain learns to make predictions over our lifespan.

Contrary to previous findings, new research has found no evidence Omega-3 fish oil supplements help aid or improve the reading ability or memory function of underperforming school-children.

Finally this week, neuroscientists have produced a collection of computer-generated models that accurately replicate cortical neuron activity.

 

 

The Neuroscience of Memory

Our memories are our lives, and a fundamental basis of our culture. Collective memoirs of the past both bind society together and shape our potential future. With our brains we can travel through time and space, calling to mind places of significance, evoking images and emotions of past experiences. It’s no wonder, then, that we so desperately fear the prospect of memory loss.

Many regions of the brain are involved in memory, but one of the most critical components is the hippocampus, which plays a crucial role in the formation of long-term memories. Damage to the hippocampus can therefore result in significant memory loss. In this video, Eleanor Maguire draws on evidence from virtual reality, brain imaging and studies of amnesia to show that the consequences of hippocampal damage are even more far-reaching than suspected, robbing us of our past, our imagination and altering our perception of the world. Maguire also explains how, despite our beliefs, our memories are not actually as accurate as you might think. In fact, they’re not really even about the past.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

 

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Neurons store and transmit information in the brain.Credit: CNRI/SPL

Superconducting computing chips modeled after neurons can process information faster and more efficiently than the human brain.  

New research published in JAMA Neurology suggests that those people whose memory is intact and who do not show any signs of Alzheimer’s can have disrupted circadian rhythms — which may be a very early sign of Alzheimer’s.

Stimulating specific regions of the brain can help to improve memory and word recall in those with severe epilepsy, a new Nature Communications study reports.  

Gene therapies promise to revolutionize the treatment of many diseases, including neurological diseases such as ALS. But the small viruses that deliver therapeutic genes can have adverse side effects at high doses. Researchers have now found a structure on these viruses that makes them better at crossing from the bloodstream into the brain – a key factor for administering gene therapies at lower doses for treating brain and spinal disorders.

Researchers discover the activity of 80 percent of genes follow a day/night rhythm in many tissue types and brain regions. 

Aging or impaired brains can once again form lasting memories if an enzyme that applies the brakes too hard on a key gene is lifted, according to University of California, Irvine neurobiologists.

Researchers have implicated mossy cells in both seizures and memory problems in those with temporal lobe epilepsy. 

Increasing evidence has linked autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with dysfunction of the brain’s cerebellum, but the details have been unclear. In a new study, researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital used stem cell technology to create cerebellar cells known as Purkinje cells from patients with tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC), a genetic syndrome that often includes ASD-like features. In the lab, the cells showed several characteristics that may help explain how ASD develops at the molecular level.

Finally this week, neuroscientists have discovered how the brain can determine an object’s value almost as soon as we see it.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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As we age, slow brain waves during non-REM sleep fail to time contact with sleep spindles efficiently, leading to a lessened ability to form new memories correctly, a new study reports.

Researchers report children are more attentive and have improved memory when they exercise at their own pace, rather than embark on exhaustive exercise.

Inflammation in the blood plays a key role in “chemo-brain,” according to a published pilot study that provides evidence for what scientists have long believed.

A new study sheds light on the neurons tasks glial cells perform to insure brain activity is optimized.

According to researchers, children who eat fish at least once a week score four points higher on IQ tests and sleep better than those who consume fish less frequently, or not at all.

A new study looks how it may be possible to help reduce trauma associated with bad memories while we sleep.

Researchers reveal even after one short, ten minute, burst of exercise, cognitive processing and attention improve temporarily.

Finally this week, a new study supports the hypothesis that people with focal epilepsy are more susceptible to mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

 

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A new guideline for medical practitioners says they should recommend twice-weekly exercise to people with mild cognitive impairment to improve memory and thinking.

Researchers reveal Parkinson’s patients have more copies of mitochondrial DNA in the brain stem, leading to increased cell death within that area.

Musical training may enhance the ability to process speech in noisy settings, a new study shows.

A new study reveals the piriform cortex is able to archive long term memory, but requires instruction from the orbiotfrontal cortex to indicate the event is to be stored as a long-term memory.

Greater muscle strength is associated with better cognitive function in ageing men and women, according to a new Finnish study

Researchers have discovered a new biomarker that can help diagnose Huntington’s disease. They note the findings could result in the development of treatments to postpone neuron death in those who carry the Huntington’s gene mutation, but who do not currently show symptoms of the disease.

A new study reveals the superior temporal gyrus appears to be critical for voice recognition.

Researchers have identified several new genes responsible for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) including those leading to functional and structural changes in the brain and elevated levels of AD proteins in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).

Finally this week, a new study adds to evidence that current clinical tools can fail to capture autism presentations in females.

 

 

 

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

Happy New Year!

So 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 habits  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 refered 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.

Goal Setting

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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Contrary to a popular theory, researchers have discovered the brain remains connected during non-REM sleep. The study reports not all forms of communication within the cerebral cortex are disrupted during this sleep phase.

Breathing is not just for oxygen; it’s now linked to brain function.

UCLA neuroscientists are the first to show that rhythmic waves in the brain called theta oscillations happen more often when someone is navigating an unfamiliar environment, and that the more quickly a person moves, the more theta oscillations take place — presumably to process incoming information faster.

Researchers have identified a brain network that allows the brain to record memories of new places.

A new study reveals deep brain stimulation not only improves motor function, but can also increase survival rates for those with Parkinson’s disease.

A build up of urea in the brain to toxic levels may cause brain damage, eventually leading to dementia, a new study reports.

A new method to measure brain connectivity has found that people with depression have changes in the brain systems involved in memory and reward.

Researchers have developed a single cell sequencing method that can map the cellular origin of a wide variety of neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Finally this week, a new study reveals why some people find it more difficult than others to meet switching demands and change focus as efficiently.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Simultaneous activity of three cognitive systems found in the study NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to Vadim Axelrod, Bar-Ilan University.

Internal experiences, such as recalling personal memories, are associated with the simultaneous activity of at least three different cognitive systems, a new study reports.

Neuroscientists have shown how the human brain can predict what our eyes will see next, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

A new study sheds light on ADHD, reporting teens with the disorder fit into one of three specific subgroups with distinct brain impairments and no common abnormalities between them.

Musical training may enhance the ability to process speech in noisy settings, a new study reveals.

Scientists are examining the feasibility of treating autistic children with neuromodulation after a new study showed social impairments can be corrected by brain stimulation.

The fear of losing control over thoughts and actions can impact OCD behaviors and other anxiety disorders, researchers report.

Recent functional studies suggest that noise sensitivity, a trait describing attitudes towards noise and predicting noise annoyance, is associated with altered processing in the central auditory system.

Finally this week, a new study reveals the frontal regions of the brain play a vital role in assessing and interpreting emotions communicated orally.

What is bipolar disorder? [Video]

The word bipolar means ‘two extremes.’ For the many millions experiencing bipolar disorder around the world, life is split between two different realities: elation and depression. So what causes this disorder? And can it be treated? Helen M. Farrell describes the root causes and treatments for bipolar disorder.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

An experimental therapy which involves a face-to-face discussion between a person with schizophrenia and an avatar representing their auditory hallucination may help reduce symptoms, when provided alongside usual treatment, according to a study led by King’s College London and published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal.

Researchers have identified a number of variable locations in the genome that influence hippocampal gene activity and may contribute to brain disorders.

For the first time, scientists have found a connection between abnormalities in how the brain breaks down glucose and the severity of the signature amyloid plaques and tangles in the brain, as well as the onset of eventual outward symptoms, of Alzheimer’s disease.

A new study reports the rhythm of your breathing can influence neural activity that enhances memory recall and emotional judgment.

The amount of close and comforting contact between infants and their caregivers can affect children at the molecular level, an effect detectable four years later, according to new research.

The brain’s auditory system can be shaped by exposure to different auditory environments, such as native language and musical training.

Contrary to a popular theory, a new study has discovered the brain remains connected during non-REM sleep. The study reports not all forms of communication within the cerebral cortex are disrupted during this sleep phase.

Cannabis use in youth is linked to bipolar symptoms in young adults, finds new research.

According to researchers, when shifting attention from one spot to another, the brain blinks. They report these blinks are momentary unconscious gaps in visual perception.

How well we are able to complete simple and complex tasks depends upon the organization of subnetworks in the brain, a new study reports.

Researchers are working to create a neurochip capable of transmitting a signal to healthy brain cells. The neurochip can be used in devices intended to replace damaged parts of the brain.

A new brain mapping study reveals smokers could be predisposed to their addiction due to the molecular make up of their brains.

In a new study, researchers describe a unique model for the biology of Alzheimer’s disease which may lead to an entirely novel approach for treating the disease. The findings appear in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Scientists hope to have found a new neurobiological marker to help recognise patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Researchers have identified a mechanism that drives hunger. A new study reports the sight or smell of food can temporarily turn of AgRP neurons, which drive the urge to eat. These neurons remain inactive until the brain receives a signal from the gut that calories have been consumed.

Finally this week, a new study reports that certain brain regions interact more closely, while others are less engaged, in people with higher intelligence.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Sleep-deprived brain cells react more slowly and fire more weakly, and their signals are more drawn out. NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to UCLA.

A Japanese research group has revealed that elderly people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) have a particularly weakened ability to memorize human faces in the short term when compared to healthy elderly people. MCI patients also had a different gaze behavior when trying to memorize a face. This research may lead to the early detection of dementia.

Researchers provide new insight into human consciousness, reporting we don’t consciously choose our feelings or thoughts; we simply become aware of them.

If a mother’s immune system is activated by infection during pregnancy, it could result in critical cognitive deficits linked to schizophrenia in her offspring, a new study has revealed.

People on the autism spectrum appear to have different reactions to subliminal social odors, researchers report.

Information from brain MRIs can help identify people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and distinguish among subtypes of the condition, according to a study appearing online in the journal Radiology.

Migraine triggers can increase oxidative stress, a new study reports. Targeting oxidative stress may help to prevent migraines.

A new study reveals how the mechanism for storing olfactory memories differs slightly from erasing unnecessary memories. Understanding how the brain gets rid of unimportant memories could help unlock new avenues of research to better understand memory loss in aging, researchers say.

Finally this week, researchers report a developmental abnormality more prevalent in premature and male babies, may contribute to SIDS risk, in conjunction to the sleep position.

 

 

How Do Drugs Affect The Brain?

Most people will take a pill, receive an injection, or otherwise take some kind of medicine during their lives. But most of us don’t know anything about how these substances actually work. How can various compounds impact the way we physically feel, think, and even behave? Sara Garofalo explains how some drugs can alter the communication between cells in the brai

Weekly Neuroscience Update

 

 

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Credit: Herz et. al./Brown University

new study provides the first direct evidence that within each person, smell sensitivity varies over the course of each day. The pattern, according to the data, tracks with the body’s internal day-night cycle, or circadian rhythm.

Researchers have revealed the neural signatures for explicit and implicit learning.

Neuroscientists have discovered precisely where and how to electrically stimulate the human brain to enhance people’s recollection of distinct memories. People with epilepsy who received low-current electrical pulses showed a significant improvement in their ability to recognize specific faces and ignore similar ones.

Adults likely do not develop ADHD, according to new research.

Researchers propose a new theory of memory formation, reporting memory storage does not rely on the strengthening of connection between memory cells, but on the pattern of connections that form within the first few minutes of an event.

A new Finnish study shows that individual circadian preference is associated with brain activity patterns during the night.

According to researchers, the size, shape and number of dendritic spines in the brain may determine whether a person develops Alzheimer’s disease.

Finally this week, migraine triggers can increase oxidative stress, a new study reports. Targeting oxidative stress may help to prevent migraines.

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

forest-868715_960_720.jpgA neuroimaging study reveals city dwellers who live closer to forests were more likely to have healthier amygdala structure and were better able to deal with stressful situations.

New research has found that a specific combination of techniques will increase people’s chances of having lucid dreams, in which the dreamer is aware they’re dreaming while it’s still happening and can control the experience.

A new study reports women who are exposed to trauma and suffer post-traumatic stress are at an increased risk of developing Lupus.

When mental and physical tasks are put in direct competition, cognition tends to win out. Researchers suggest more energy is directed to the brain than the body, supporting the ‘selfish brain’ theory of evolution.

Researchers have revealed the neural signatures for explicit and implicit learning.

A delayed neurological response to processing the written word could be an indicator that a patient with mild memory problems is at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, research led by the University of Birmingham has discovered.

A new study reveals MRI brain scans can help identify neurological changes associated with multiple sclerosis before symptoms appear in children.

Researchers have shown for the first time a comprehensive picture of cell diversity in the amygdala, a vital brain region involved in the regulation of emotions and social behavior, as well as in autism spectrum disorders, depression and other mental disorders. As part of the study, the team also reported on a new method for systematically linking the distinct types of brain cells to specific behavioral functions.

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

Most cases of autism appear to be associated with the appearance of new mutations that are not inherited from the child’s parents, researchers from the University of Washington School of Medicine report.

A new brain-imaging study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry suggests scientists may be able to predict how likely children are to develop depression. 

Researchers have developed a new assessment model that breaks emotional regulation into three different elements. The MAS assessment will provide clinicians a new way in which to diagnose mood and mental health disorders.

A new study reports transcranial magnetic stimulation of the prefrontal cortex improves a person’s ability to evaluate their performance during a working memory task.

Researchers at Salk Institute report astrocytes initiate communication between pairs of neurons during early development, inducing specific neural changes. Findings may have implications for neurodevelopmental disorders such as ASD and ADHD.

Researchers have discovered a cellular mechanism that may contribute to the breakdown of communication between neurons in Alzheimer’s disease.

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

 

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A bidirectional brain-computer interface (BBCI) can both record signals from the brain and send information back to the brain through stimulation. Credit: Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE).

 

Researchers are investigating advances in brain-computer interface technologies and considering the implications of linking our brains up to technology.

A new study published in the online journal Radiology suggested that disconnections in the areas of the brain, which are involved in attention and visual processing might lead to visual hallucinations in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Researchers present a new theory about dreaming, suggesting dreams may be an accidental byproduct of our waking cognitive abilities.

Scientists have long deemed the ability to recognize faces innate for people and other primates — something our brains just know how to do immediately from birth. However, the findings of a new Harvard Medical School study published Sept. 4 in the journal Nature Neuroscience cast doubt on this longstanding view.

Genetic processes that allow cells to transform so they can mend damaged nerves have been identified by scientists.

For the first time, researchers have been able to see changes in the neural structures in specific areas of the brains of people who suffered severe abuse as children.

A new study reveals molecular details of what happens when axons are damaged or completely severed.

A researcher has discovered the molecule that stores long-term memories — it’s called calcium/calmodulin dependent protein kinase (CaMKII).

Finally, this week, how well we are able to complete simple and complex tasks depends upon the organization of subnetworks in the brain, a new study reports.

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

dog-2751115_960_720.jpgThe tendency of dogs to seek contact with their owners is associated with genetic variations in sensitivity for the hormone oxytocin, according to a new study from Linköping University, Sweden.

A new study reveals schizophrenia is up to 79% hereditary.

Metacognition of a tactile working memory task has been demonstrated by researchers for the first time. Understanding this brain function might help in the development of new treatments for neuropsychiatric illnesses in the future.

Researchers have shed light on how motor signals help sharpen our ability to decipher complex sound flows.

Increased communication between distant brain regions helps older adults compensate for the negative aspects of ageing, reports a new study published this week in Human Brain Mapping.

Scientists report brain network organization changes can influence executive function in young adults.

A news study has found that brain functions in young men and women are changed by long-term alcohol use, but that these changes are significantly different in men and women.

Mindfulness and meditation can affect brain plasticity, resulting in the ability for adults to acquire new social skills, researchers report.

A new study has found that chronic tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ears) is associated with changes in certain networks in the brain, and furthermore, those changes cause the brain to stay more at attention and less at rest.

Finnish researchers have revealed how eating stimulates brain’s endogenous opioid system to signal pleasure and satiety.

Finally this week, sleep deprivation — typically administered in controlled, inpatient settings — rapidly reduces symptoms of depression in roughly half of depression patients, according to the first meta-analysis on the subject in nearly 30 years.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Researchers report people with poor sleep quality were less likely to experience symptoms of depression if they had higher activity in the ventral striatum.

A new study, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, has uncovered a simple, measurable explanation that can determine your preference for one song over another.

Almost a quarter of girls and one-tenth of boys show signs of depression at age 14, say researchers from the University College London.

Excessive neurogenesis following brain injury may lead to neurological problems and cognitive decline researchers report. The findings challenge common assumptions that excessive brain cell growth following injury is advantageous.

Whether we are consciously aware of seeing a familiar face and object or not, our brains actively notice

A new study has investigated which neurons react to different vocal pitches, discerning between different voices and reacting to emphasis. The findings help us to understand how the brain gains meaning from the sound of speech.

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

Finnish researchers have revealed that exercise-induced endorphin release in the brain depends on the intensity of the exercise. Endorphin release induced by exercise may be an important mechanism which affects exercise motivation and maintenance of regular physical activity.

Researchers reveal people who report higher levels of moral reasoning show increased activity in brain areas associated with reward. 

Finally this week, for most people, laughter is highly contagious. But researchers reporting in Current Biology on September 28 have new evidence to show that boys at risk of developing psychopathy when they become adults don’t have that same urge.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Scientists have developed a virtual reality computer game as part of the world’s biggest dementia research experiment. It is designed to test one of the first things to go with dementia – the ability to navigate.

Researchers have developed a robotic system that allows them to focus in on specific neurons in the brain. The technology could help answer questions such as how neurons interact with each other as we recall a memory.

Benzodiazepines—the family of popular sedatives that includes Valium and Xanaxseem to bring about structural changes in the brain, according to a European study running in the August edition of Psychiatry Neuroimaging.

Researchers report people who report higher levels of moral reasoning show increased activity in brain areas associated with reward. The study may improve understanding as to why some people are more likely to engage in prosocial behaviors.

Tinnitus, a chronic ringing or buzzing in the ears, has eluded medical treatment and scientific understanding. A new study found that chronic tinnitus is associated with changes in certain networks in the brain, and furthermore, those changes cause the brain to stay more at attention and less at rest.

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.

Finally this week, a new study, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, shows that older people who routinely partake in physical exercise can reverse the signs of aging in the brain, and dancing has the most profound effect.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Serotonin-induced activation of serotonin (3A) receptors. NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

Using cryo-electron microscopy, researchers have successfully imaged serotonin attaching to the receptor and twisting open the channel, allowing sodium molecules to travel through.

Researchers report adults who sleep six hours per night, as opposed to the recommended eight, have higher chances of waking up dehydrated.

A new study reports some genetic factors that increase obesity work to lower metabolic risk. 14 genetic variations, researchers report, are linked to higher BMI but lower diabetes risk.

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

Researchers have discovered how the nature of T cells help protect the brain from viruses. The findings shed light on the role the immune system plays in a number of neurodegenerative disorders.

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

As the adage goes “neurons that fire together, wire together,” but a new paper published today in Neuron demonstrates that, in addition to response similarity, projection target also constrains local connectivity.

A new study reveals common brain activity patterns associated with depressive moods.

Engaging in regular exercise can help preserve the motor and non-motor function of Parkinson’s disease patients, most likely as a result of an increased release of dopamine in the brain, a small study suggests.

Researchers have identified abnormalities in specific neural networks that may be a biomarker to predict the risk of developing schizophrenia.

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