In this week’s round-up of the latest discoveries in the field of neuroscience – the neuroscience of dreaming and eureka moments, the teenage brain and new research into Parkinson’s and Alzheimers.
Scientists have long puzzled over the many hours we spend in light, dreamless slumber. But a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests we’re busy recharging our brain’s learning capacity during this traditionally undervalued phase of sleep, which can take up half the night.
Perhaps while sleeping we are gaining new insight into our problems. A new brain-imaging study looks at the neural activity associated with insight. The research, published by Cell Press in the March 10 issue of the journal Neuron, reveals specific brain activity that occurs during an “A-ha!” moment that may help encode the new information in long-term memory.
I’ve written previously about the brain of a teenager being hot-wired to take risk, but now new research shows that just when teens are faced with intensifying peer pressure to misbehave, regions of the brain are actually blossoming in a way that heighten the ability to resist risky behavior.
Brain scans are being used to spot the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in a UK-based pilot that could revolutionise its diagnosis. Doctors are using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to look at whether particular parts of the brain have started to shrink, which is a key physiological sign of Alzheimer’s. The MRI project is an example of “translational research” – that which will have a direct benefit for patients. And in more translational research news, it emerges that in studies of more than 135,000 men and women regular users of ibuprofen were 40% less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.