Weekly Neuroscience Update

paralysis-tablet-bci-neurosciencenews.jpg

Two participants in the BrainGate clinical trial directly control a tablet computer through a brain-computer interface to chat with each other online. The research, published in PLOS ONE, is a step toward restoring the ability of people with paralysis to use everyday technologies.

New research from the BrainGate consortium shows that a brain-computer interface (BCI) can enable people with paralysis to directly operate an off-the-shelf tablet device just by thinking about making cursor movements and clicks.

A new study reports those exposed to the highest levels of noise pollution caused by traffic are at an increased risk of obesity.

Researchers have pinpointed a part of the human brain responsible for “on-the-fly” decision-making. According to the findings published in JNeurosci, the anterior cingulate cortex integrates disparate information about the desirability and amount of an option to inform choice.

MRI brain scans perform better than common clinical tests at predicting which people will go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study.

A team of researchers has found that the brain works for a while after the heart has stopped. The research is reported in a journal paper titled, ‘AWARE—AWAreness during REsuscitation—A prospective study.’ The scientists looked at patients with cardiac arrests in Europe and the US. They noted that those of the patients who were successfully resuscitated after their heart had stopped beating could recall the conversations around them between the healthcare personnel and were aware of their surroundings.

Researchers have identified a mechanism by which immune system problems can cause commensal dysbiosis, which promotes age-related pathologies.

According to a new study, exploring objects through touch can generate detailed, lasting memories of the object, even when people don’t intend to memorize the details of the object.

A single season of high school football may be enough to cause microscopic changes in the structure of the brain, according to researchers.

Finally this week, researchers using functional MRI (fMRI) have found differences in the brains of men and women who are addicted to online gaming, according to a new study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

 

 

 

 

Alzheimer’s Researchers Detect Genetic Recombination in the Brain

For the first time, scientists have identified gene recombination, or “mixing and matching” of DNA, in the brain.

New technology revealed DNA in neurons is recombined, producing thousands of previously unknown gene variations—and identifying a potential near-term treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, published in Nature and authored by Jerold Chun, M.D., Ph.D., professor and senior vice president of Neuroscience Drug Discovery at SBP, focused on the Alzheimer’s-linked gene, APP, and discovered it is recombined by using the same type of enzyme found in HIV. This finding indicates existing FDA-approved antiretroviral therapies for HIV that block reverse transcriptase might also be able to halt the recombination process—and could be explored as a new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

neuroimaging-asd-model-neuroscineneews.jpg

A new study reports short distance connectivity abnormalities may be involved in social cognitive deficits in those with autism spectrum disorders.

Capitalizing on recent advances in neuroimaging and genetic biomarker research, scientists have been able to identify specific pathways by which tau and beta-amyloid, two proteins that are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, accumulate in the brain over time.

A new study reports people who experience migraines with visual auras are at increased risk of atrial fibrillation.

Researchers report there are two distinct ways in which we make temporal predictions, and these rely on different parts of the brain. The findings offer a new perspective on how humans calculate when to make a move.

A 15-minute scan could help diagnose brain damage in babies up to two years earlier than current methods.

A newborn baby’s brain responds to being touched on the face, according to new research. Babies use this sense of touch — facial somatosensation — to find and latch onto their mother’s nipple, and should have this ability from birth. Premature babies often have difficulty feeding, and underdevelopment of their facial sensitivity may be one of the main causes.

MRI brain scans perform better than common clinical tests at predicting which people will go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study.

Researchers at the University of Queensland have discovered that the thickness of the brain’s outer layer influences how individual neurons process information. The findings, published in the journal, Neuron, challenge the understanding of how brain circuits function throughout the brain.

Finally, this week, new research published in the Journal of Physiology presents a breakthrough in the treatment of Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS).

 

This Is Your Brain On Gratitude

do what you love

“Thank you” doesn’t just bring light to people’s faces. It also lights up different parts of the brain.

In honor of Thanksgiving, I’d like to share this article with you from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.

Evidence is mounting that gratitude makes a powerful impact on our bodies, including our immune and cardiovascular health. But how does gratitude work in the brain?

A team at the University of Southern California has shed light on the neural nuts and bolts of gratitude in a new study, offering insights into the complexity of this social emotion and how it relates to other cognitive processes.

There seems to be a thread that runs through subtle acts of gratitude, such as holding a door for someone, all the way up to the big powerful stuff like when someone gives you a kidney,” says Glenn Fox, a postdoctoral researcher at USC and lead author of the study. “I designed this experiment to see what aspects of brain function are common to both these small feelings of appreciation and large feelings of gratitude.

In their experiment, Fox and his team planned to scan participants’ brains while they were feeling grateful to see where gratitude showed up.

The researchers found that grateful brains showed enhanced activity in two primary regions: the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). These areas have been previously associated with emotional processing, interpersonal bonding and rewarding social interactions, moral judgment, and the ability to understand the mental states of others.

A lot of people conflate gratitude with the simple emotion of receiving a nice thing. What we found was something a little more interesting,” says Fox. “The pattern of [brain]activity we see shows that gratitude is a complex social emotion that is really built around how others seek to benefit us.

In other words, gratitude isn’t merely about reward—and doesn’t just show up in the brain’s reward center. It involves morality, connecting with others, and taking their perspective.

In further studies, Fox hopes to investigate what’s going on in the body as gratitude improves our health and well-being.

It’s really great to see all the benefits that gratitude can have, but we are not done yet. We still need to see exactly how it works, when it works, and what are the best ways to bring it out more,” he says. “Enhancing our knowledge of gratitude pulls us closer to our own human dignity and what we can do to benefit each other.

You might also like to read When You Are Grateful, Your Brain Becomes More Charitable

Weekly Neuroscience Update

genetics-autism-neurosciencenews.jpg

A network of more than 200 genes encoding proteins with diverse cellular roles was revealed in a non-biased CRISPR screen for regulators of microexon splicing. Many of the genes have previously been linked to autism. Image is credited to Thomas Gonatopoulos-Pournatzis.

Using CRISPR techniques, researchers have uncovered a genetic network linked to autism.

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.

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

A new study has identified unique functional brain networks associated with characteristic behaviors of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in 12- and 24-month old children at risk for developing ASD. The study is published in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.

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

New research has found preliminary evidence that high-intensity interval exercise temporarily impairs reward learning mechanisms in the brain. The research, which was published in Physiology & Behavior, indicates that this type of exercise does not improve all aspects of cognitive function.

A new study reports aerobic exercise can have antidepressant effects for patients with major depressive disorder.

Researchers propose a new theory of human thinking, suggesting our brain’s navigation system is key to thinking. This may explain why our knowledge seems to be organized in spatial fashion.

Scientists have solved a 125-year-old mystery of the brain, and, in the process, uncovered a potential treatment for acquired epilepsy.

A new neuroimaging study reveals the brains of teenage girls who self-harm show similar features to adults with borderline personality disorder.

Researchers were able to distinguish between children with or without ASD diagnosis, thanks to a new saliva-based biomarker panel. Researchers report the test can be used in children as young as 18 month, assisting in early diagnosis of autism.

Finally this week, a new study reveals common brain activity patterns associated with depressive moods.

 

 

 

 

The Neurobiology of Kindness #WorldKindnessDay

My Post.jpg

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

Why does Kindness Exist?

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

The Neurobiology of Kindness

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

Kindness is the Engine for Personal Growth

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

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

Survival of the Kindest

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

 


References

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

 

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

serotonin-receptor-activation-neuroscieneews.jpg

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.

 

 

 

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

mini-retina-eye-brain-neurosciencenews

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.