Weekly Neuroscience Update

Exercise can improve your cognitive and mental health — but not all forms and intensities of exercise affect the brain equally. The effects of exercise are much more nuanced, as specific intensities of exercise over a long period of time are associated with different aspects of memory and mental health, according to a new study.

A research team has shown for the first time that non-invasive stimulation of the vagus nerve at the ear can strengthen the communication between stomach and brain within minutes.

A mutation in a newly discovered small protein is connected to a significant increase in the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, expanding the known gene targets for the disease and presenting a new potential avenue for treatment, according to a new study.

A new report highlights the advances and challenges in prevention, clinical care, and research in traumatic brain injury, a leading cause of injury-related death and disability worldwide.

Neurons in an area of the brain responsible for memory (known as the entorhinal cortex) are significantly larger in SuperAgers compared to cognitively average peers, individuals with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, and even individuals 20 to 30 years younger than SuperAgers — who are aged 80 years and older, reports a new study.

Children who were infected with COVID-19 show a substantially higher risk of developing type 1 diabetes (T1D), according to new research.

Researchers have discovered a biological mechanism that increases the strength with which fear memories are stored in the brain. The study provides new knowledge on the mechanisms behind anxiety-related disorders, and identifies shared mechanisms behind anxiety and alcohol dependence.

Finally this week, a new study demonstrates how an AI algorithm can estimate biological age with high accuracy based on brain scan images.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Researchers have presented new findings which found after one session of aerobic exercise people showed reduced cravings for alcohol, lower levels of stress, and improvements in mood.

When our eyes move during REM sleep, we’re gazing at things in the dream world our brains have created, according to a new study. The findings shed light not only into how we dream, but also into how our imaginations work.

Measuring how the eyes’ pupils change in response to light—known as the pupillary light reflex—could potentially be used to screen for autism in young children, according to a new study.

Researchers have made an important discovery about the way our brains process the sensations of sound and touch. They found that sensory systems in the brain are closely interconnected, with regions that respond to touch also involved when we listen to specific sounds connected to touching certain objects.

A study into the effect of surprise on our memory has inadvertently discovered a method that might help us to perform better in exams.

Scientists have uncovered how dopamine connects subregions of the striatum essential for habit formation, findings that may change the overall understanding of how habits are formed—and could be broken.

New research finds the brains of people playing online video games synchronize, even when there is a physical distance between the players.

By estimating people’s brain age from MRI scans using machine learning, a team of researchers has identified multiple risk factors for a prematurely aging brain. They found that worse cardiovascular health at age 36 predicted a higher brain age later in life, while men also tended to have older brains than women of the same age, as they report in The Lancet Healthy Longevity.

Young people with 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome have distinct and marked EEG differences in brain activity during sleep, which could influence psychiatric symptoms.

Tight control of blood sugar in teens with Type 1 diabetes may help reduce the disease’s damaging effects on the brain, effects which have been shown even in younger children, according to a study published in Nature Communications.

Tests of the brain’s electrical activity have revealed fentanyl’s effects over time and indicated that the drug stops people’s breathing before other noticeable changes and before they lose consciousness.

A newly developed artificial intelligence model can detect Parkinson’s disease by reading a person’s breathing patterns. The algorithm can also discern the severity of Parkinson’s disease and track progression over time.

A new study reveals how a molecule produced by astrocytes interferes with normal neuron development in a range of neurodevelopmental disorders.

People with an obsessive urge to constantly check the news are more likely to suffer from stress, anxiety, as well as physical ill health, finds a new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Health Communication.

Finally this week, the impact of breathing diesel exhaust fumes may be more severe for females than males, according to new research.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

For the first time, a team of international scientists has studied the development of the main immune cell population residing in the human brain, called microglia, on human tissue.

Scientists have uncovered a molecular pathway that distills threatening sights, sounds and smells into a single message: Be afraid. A molecule called CGRP enables neurons in two separate areas of the brain to bundle threatening sensory cues into a unified signal, tag it as negative and convey it to the amygdala, which translates the signal into fear. The research, published in Cell Reports on August 16, 2022, may lead to new therapies for fear-related disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or hypersensitivity disorders such as autism, migraines and fibromyalgia.

Researchers have identified a new type of retinal ganglion cell, the neurons in the retina that encode the visual environment and transmit information back to the brain.

Children who sleep less than 9 hours per night have significant differences in brain regions associated with memory, intelligence, and well-being compared to their peers who sleep 9 or more hours per night. Less sleep in children was also associated with increased risks of depression, anxiety, and impulsive behaviors.

A new study finds that Alzheimer’s disease disrupts at least one form of visual memory by degrading a newly identified circuit that connects the vision processing centers of each brain hemisphere.

Leisure activities, such as reading a book, doing yoga and spending time with family and friends may help lower the risk of dementia, according to a new meta-analysis published in the August 10, 2022, online issue of Neurology.

Finally this week, a novel study reports the dynamics of consciousness may be understood by a newly developed conceptual and mathematical framework.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Social Media Damaging Your Brain?

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

It’s an interesting question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would certainly agree with this.

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

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

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

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

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

But is it true?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Neuroscience Update

 

Researchers have uncovered the neural mechanism underlying rumination. The study reports when rumination occurs, coupling between the core and medial temporal lobe subsystems of the default mode network becomes elevated while coupling between the core and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex decreases.

Researchers have made an important discovery about the mechanisms behind learning and memory.

Individuals who suffer trauma in child- and adulthood may experience a greater amount of cognitive decline as they age than individuals who haven’t experienced trauma, a new study found.

A newly designed synthetic compound could act as a prototype for a novel class of drugs to treat neurological damage.

A single dose of cannabidiol (CBD) helped increase blood flow to the hippocampus, an important area of the brain associated with memory and emotion, finds a new study.

Atypical brain development begins at the very earliest stages of brain organization, at the level of individual neurons.

Finaly this week, children born to mothers who experienced immune disorders during pregnancy, including allergies, asthma, autoimmune diseases, and autoinflammatory syndromes, are more likely to exhibit behavioral and emotional problems according to the findings of a new study. 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

A baby next to fMRI scanning images of its brain. Understanding how an infant’s brain is typically organized may help answer questions when something goes awry. The image is credited to Cory Inman.

A newborn’s brain is more adult-like than previously assumed. Neuroimaging revealed much of the visual cortex scaffolding is in place, along with patterns of brain activity at 27 days of age, although it is not quite as strong as seen in adult brains.

New research uses the mating songs of birds to show how intrinsic properties of cells are closely tied to the complex processes of learning.

People with a life-long history of antisocial behavior had decreased mean surface area of the brain and lower mean cortical thickness than those with no history of antisocial behavior. Much of the cortical thinning was in areas associated with emotional regulation, motivation, and goal-directed behavior.

Two separate studies display the fascinating relations between AI and neuroscience.

Low-intensity exercise triggers brain networks associated with cognitive control and attention processing, while high-intensity exercise activates networks involved in emotional processing.

Following a stroke, dysfunction in the glymphatic system causes cerebrospinal fluid to flood the brain, drowning neurons, and triggering cerebral edema.

An unexpected research finding is providing new information that could lead to new treatments of certain neurological diseases and disorders, including multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and spinal cord injury.

Male patients on the autism spectrum who were given oxytocin for four weeks experienced improvements in social attachment behaviors for up to 12 months.

Finally this week, new brain networks come ‘online’ during adolescence, allowing teenagers to develop more complex adult social skills, but potentially putting them at increased risk of mental illness, according to new research.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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