Weekly Neuroscience Update

3D-printed model of a neuron (credit: Yale University)

3D-printed model of a neuron (credit: Yale University)

A Yale neuroscientist  has created the first 3D-printed neuron.

Studies released today suggest promising new treatments for nicotine and heroin addiction, and further our understanding of pathological gambling and heroin abuse in those suffering chronic pain. This new knowledge, released at Neuroscience 2013, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience (SFN) and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health, may one day lead to non-pharmaceutical interventions and therapies to treat addiction. Also presented at SFN, new studies revealing links between social status and specific brain structures and activity, particularly in the context of social stress.

A new study has found that people experiencing a depressive episode process information about themselves differently than people who are not depressed.

To flexibly deal with our ever-changing world, we need to learn from both the negative and positive consequences of our behaviour. In other words, from punishment and reward. Hanneke den Ouden from the Donders Institute in Nijmegen demonstrated that serotonin and dopamine related genes influence how we base our choices on past punishments or rewards. This influence depends on which gene variant you inherited from your parents. These results were published in Neuron on November 20.

Brain scans reveal that people with fibromyalgia are not as able to prepare for pain as healthy people, and they are less likely to respond to the promise of pain relief.

Scientists have used RNA interference (RNAi) technology to reveal dozens of genes which may represent new therapeutic targets for treating Parkinson’s disease. The findings also may be relevant to several diseases caused by damage to mitochondria, the biological power plants found in cells throughout the body.

Playing a fast-paced strategy video games can help the brain to become more agile and improve strategic thinking, according to new research.

While young children sleep, connections between the left and the right hemispheres of their brain strengthen, which may help brain functions mature, according to a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder.  And in another sleep study, a team of sleep researchers  has confirmed the mechanism that enables the brain to consolidate memory and found that a commonly prescribed sleep aid enhances the process. Those discoveries could lead to new sleep therapies that will improve memory for aging adults and those with dementia, Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Scientists have shown that working as a piano tuner may lead to changes in the structure of the memory and navigation areas of the brain. The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, shows that these structural differences correlate with the number of years of experience a piano tuner has accumulated.

An unusual kind of circuit fine-tunes the brain’s control over movement and incoming sensory information, and without relying on conventional nerve pathways, according to a study published in the journal Neuron.

The reason we struggle to recall memories from our early childhood is down to high levels of neuron production during the first years of life, say Canadian researchers.

Researchers have identified mutations in several new genes that might be associated with the development of spontaneously occurring cases of the neurodegenerative disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, the progressive, fatal condition, in which the motor neurons that control movement and breathing gradually cease to function, has no cure.

The brains of people with depression show a reduced ability to adapt to their environment, a unique study shows.

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have found that a naturally occurring protein secreted only in discrete areas of the mammalian brain may act as a Valium-like brake on certain types of epileptic seizures.

photo credit: Chandra Marsono via photopin cc

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Newly formed emotional memories can be erased from the human brain. This is shown by researchers from Uppsala University in a new study now being published by the academic journal Science. The findings may represent a breakthrough in research on memory and fear.

A growing body of research shows that children who suffer severe neglect and social isolation have cognitive and social impairments as adults. A study from Boston Children’s Hospital shows, for the first time, how these functional impairments arise: Social isolation during early life prevents the cells that make up the brain’s white matter from maturing and producing the right amount of myelin, the fatty “insulation” on nerve fibers that helps them transmit long-distance messages within the brain.

People with psychopathic tendencies have an impaired sense of smell, which points to inefficient processing in the front part of the brain [orbitofrontal cortex]. These findings by Mehmet Mahmut and Richard Stevenson, from Macquarie University in Australia, are published online in Springer’s journal Chemosensory Perception.

According to new research of MRI scans of children’s appetite and pleasure centers in their brains, the logos of such fast-food giants as McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Burger King causes those areas to “light up”.

New signs of future Alzheimer’s disease have been identified by researchers at Lund University and Skane University in Sweden. Dr. Peder Buchhave and his team explain that disease-modifying treatments are more beneficial if started early, so it is essential identify Alzheimer’s disease patients as quickly as possible.

A new study from MIT neuroscientists sheds light on a neural circuit that makes us likelier to remember what we’re seeing when our brains are in a more attentive state.

Weekly Round-Up

Can meditation change brain signature?

This week..how the brain corrects perceptual errors, how meditation and hypnosis change the brain’s signature, a new method for delivering complex drugs directly to the brain, the brain development of children, and how regular exercise helps overweight children do better at school. 

New research provides the first evidence that sensory recalibration – the brain’s automatic correcting of errors in our sensory or perceptual systems – can occur instantly.

In Meditation, Hypnosis Change the Brain signature the Vancouver Sun reports that mindfulness training is ‘a valuable, drug-free tool in the struggle to foster attention skills, with positive spinoffs for controlling our emotions.’

Oxford University scientists have developed a new method for delivering complex drugs directly to the brain, a necessary step for treating diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Motor Neuron Disease and Muscular Dystrophy.

A new study has found that a mother’s iron deficiency early in pregnancy may have a profound and long-lasting effect on the brain development of the child, even if the lack of iron is not enough to cause severe anemia.

Children with Tourette syndrome could benefit from behavioural therapy to reduce their symptoms, according to a new brain imaging study.

Regular exercise improves the ability of overweight, previously inactive children to think, plan and even do mathematics, Georgia Health Sciences University researchers report.

Image Credit: Photostock

Six ways to apply neuroscience to learning

If you have been following my series of posts last week on neuroeducation, you will have seen how learning actually changes the shape of the brain, allowing specific areas in the brain to grow or change. 

Neuroeducation is moving closer to the classroom as researchers understand how young minds develop and learn. 

An interesting recent finding is that children from troubled family situations show abnormally high blood levels of cortical – a stress hormone – which drops dramatically while in preschool.  This finding suggests that placing children from troubled families as early as possible in a safer environment – such as preschool – is a good idea not just from an educational- but also a mental health point of view.

Six ways to apply neuroscience to learning 

  1.  Connect emotionally with the child – a safe environment promotes learning while fear kills learning. This is first on the list because it is the most important.
  2.  Create an enriched physical learning environment – employ as many of the five senses – seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling – in your teaching.
  3.  Teach on how to apply knowledge – not just impart knowledge for knowledge sake – thus, learning to tie a shoelace can also be used to wrap a gift for mom.
  4.  Teach for mastery – break down the information into manageable units and create tests for students to take on each of the units.  Leave no child behind.
  5.  Design curricula based on big-picture concepts – change your style and approach as situations change.
  6.  Evaluate learning outcomes periodically – you need to know quickly what’s working – and what’s not.

 

Image Credit: Superstock

Important role of mother’s voice in activating newborn’s brain

brain activity in baby

Exciting  new research has proved for the first time that a newborn baby’s brain responds strongly to its mother’s voice.*

A research team from the University of Montreal and the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Centre conducted experiments  on newborn infants by performing electrical recordings within the 24 hours following their birth. Brain exploration has never before been undertaken on such young participants. 

When the baby’s mother spoke, the scans very clearly show reactions in the left-hemisphere of the brain, and in particular the language processing and motor skills circuit.

It was already well known that babies have some innate language capacities, but researchers are only just beginning to understand what these capacities are and how they work.

“This research confirms that the mother is the primary initiator of language and suggests that there is a neurobiological link between prenatal language acquisition and motor skills involved in speech,” said lead researcher Dr. Maryse Lassonde.

*Université de Montréal (2010, December 17). Mom’s voice plays special role in activating newborn’s brain. ScienceDaily.