Weekly Neuroscience Update

Researchers have investigated why many of us wake in the middle of the night and dwell on our fears.

In response to gut inflammation, such as that caused by inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the vascular barrier in the brain choroid plexus closes, locking down access to the brain, according to a new study.

A multiyear study of older adults found that both short and long sleepers experienced greater cognitive decline than people who slept a moderate amount, even when the effects of early Alzheimer’s disease were taken into account.

A brain circuit that works as a “brake” on binge alcohol drinking may help explain male-female differences in vulnerability to alcohol use disorders, according to a preclinical study led by scientists at Weill Cornell Medicine.

The Mediterranean diet does not only have beneficial effects for the cardiovascular health of those who follow it, but it can allow them to improve their memory and prevent or delay the effects of cognitive deterioration connected to aging. 

People with higher levels of anxiety have altered perceptions of their breathing compared to those with lower levels of anxiety. The altered perception of respiration can lead to an increase in feelings of anxiety, researchers report.

Finally this week researchers reveal the neurobiological basis of why we often find it more difficult to find the right words as we age.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Exposure to toxoplasma, a disease carried by cats, may increase the likelihood of developing psychosis in young people already at risk, a new study has found.

The development of drugs to treat cognitive problems in patients with mental illness may be a step closer after a team of researchers discovered that an existing drug—used to treat constipation—may be able to boost our ability to think more clearly.

The way a person’s brain responds to stress following a traumatic event, such as a car accident, may help to predict their long-term mental health outcomes, according to new research.

Researchers have identified how specific neurons in the cuneate nucleus help filter distracting information to coordinate dexterous movements. The findings have implications for the development of new prosthetics and robotic equipment that can fine-tune movement based on the sense of touch.

A new study has found structural differences in the prefrontal cortex and brain areas associated with empathy and cognitive control, between siblings where one displayed antisocial behaviors and the other did not.

It remains a central challenge in psychiatry to reliably judge whether a patient will respond to treatment. In a new study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, researchers from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Germany show that moment-to-moment fluctuations in brain activity can reliably predict whether patients with social anxiety disorder will be receptive to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Researchers have identified a brain rhythm associated with emotional conflict that appears to be a biomarker for anxiety disorder.

Finally this week, people with elevated blood pressure that falls within the normal recommended range are at risk of accelerated brain ageing, according to new research. The research also found optimal blood pressure helps our brains stay at least six months younger than our actual age. 

 

Mental Health Requires Courage #WorldMentalHealthDay

He who increases knowledge, increases sorrow but who wants to live a life of ignorance?

The key to a happy life

The key to a happy life is the ability to transcend personal suffering, find a balance, and recognise that the world has problems. This requires mental effort and those of us who strive to better understand ourselves in the world come out the other side as a new person, with some peace of mind and a way to live.

Fundamental or accidental?

A limit to understanding ourselves in the world is the fact that we do not know that some of the things we perceive to be truly fundamental today may actually be just accidental. For instance, the brain uses systematic patterns of thought to produce philosophy including science, mathematics, literature, ideas and beliefs including a belief in a deity to guide us towards new insights. What we need to understand is that none of these may be fundamental in themselves. They are just tools that our ancestors used to probe the unknown and to see what is possible – knowing that what is common for us is just a tiny sliver of what actually exists.

Accidental fundamentalism is often mistaken for truth

In the West we have made the truth our highest value. This motivation while important is weak compared to the actual power of belief. We are born into a culture which often insists on a particular religious or ideological philosophy as fact and the only way to understand ourselves in the world, but adhering to this belief may cause personal suffering by impeding insights necessary to achieve peace of mind. Resisting enculturation is the highest expression of human psychological development and is a hallmark of what is called in psychology as the fully self-actualised person.

Recasting reality

Self-actualisers reject accepted cultural ‘truths’ and see beyond the confines of an era to achieve a clearer perception of reality. A further subtle difference sets these people apart. Most of us see life as striving to get this or that – whether it be material things or having a family or doing well career wise. Self-actualizers in contrast do not strive as much as develop. They are only ambitious to the extent in being able to express themselves more fully and perfectly, delighting in what they are able to do. Another general point is their profound freedom of mind. In contrast to the conforming pressures around them self-actualizers are a walking example of free will.

Mental health requires courage

In this way happiness can be described as personal autonomy. The independence of mind to explore and choose the best skills and tools needed to achieve personal insight. Where you are no longer beholden to culture, creed or religion and without any attendant guilt or fear in abandoning old ways in order to try new ones as you evolve to become the master of your own fate.

What to believe?

Mental health is two things:(i) being in touch with reality and (ii) being open to new experiences. But here’s the thing – there is no reality only perception.

Understand that the world is not necessarily as you perceive it. Everyone has filters and only by acknowledging them can you begin to get a clearer picture. Even in a close relationship the same simple act can be viewed differently. A man will see paying all the bills as his duty while his wife will see it as an act of love. Appreciate that your views might be prejudices.

Most importantly make sure that the perceptions you do retain or adopt are grounded in verifiable fact and can be tested. Otherwise any actions you take based on your beliefs will be on shaky ground.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

With normal (top) and reduced SLK expression (bottom). Without SLK, dendrites branch less; moreover, the number of inhibitory synapses (green) decreases. Credit: Institut für Neuropathologie/Uni Bonn

Researchers have shed light on the function of the enzyme SLK for the development of nerve cells in the brain. Lack of the SLK protein results in less abundant dendrites. As a lack of SLK is apparent in many patients with epilepsy, the findings could pave the way for new treatments for those suffering from the neurological disorder.

Adults who experienced traumatic events, including abuse and household dysfunction, as children had an increased risk of developing neurological conditions later in life.

Researchers have designed new antibodies that might provide more effective treatment methods for Alzheimer’s disease. By designing antibodies that bind even to the smaller aggregates, or clumps, of the amyloid-beta protein, it may be possible to check the progress of the disease.

A new study traces the mechanisms that link environmental signals and our circadian clocks.

Adolescents can speed their recovery after a sport-related concussion and reduce their risk of experiencing protracted recovery if they engage in aerobic exercise within 10 days of getting injured, according to a new study.

A new study reports a reduction of atmospheric fine particulates and better air quality can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

A team of researchers has partially solved the mystery of why some people are less naturally resistant to COVID-19 than others. In their paper published in the journal Science, the group describes their study of the interferon system and the role it plays in combating the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Finally this week, researchers have identified a brain rhythm associated with emotional conflict that appears to be a biomarker for anxiety disorder.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Bacterial curli promotes the aggregation of α-synuclein through cross-seeding, which leads to mitochondrial stress and neurodegeneration. Credit: The University of Hong Kong

Growing evidence indicates that gut microbiota plays a critical role in regulating the progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease (PD) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD), but the molecular mechanism underlying such microbe-host interaction is still unclear. Now a research team at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) has discovered that bacteria-derived curli amyloid fibril promotes neurodegeneration in the host. This new study provides direct evidence to suggest that bacteria can secrete proteins that form an amyloid fibril, which enters the host neurons and promotes protein aggregation and neurodegeneration. Inhibiting the ability of the bacteria to secrete such proteins may be a preventative treatment for neurodegenerative diseases. 

Unusual visual inspection of objects by infants 9 months of age and older is predictive of a later diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), new research has found.

A team of scientists recently published intriguing research on a tiny, splinter-like brain implant that doctors can slide deep into the folds of the brain and use to restore both muscular control over and sensation from a paralysis patient’s limbs.

A new study has found a new way to look at brain networks using the mathematical notion of fractals, to convey communication patterns between different brain regions as people listened to a short story. 

An experimental gene therapy that involves injecting CRISPR therapy directly into visually impaired patients’ eyeballs has vastly improved most volunteers’ vision — even allowing some to see color more vividly than ever before.

Preliminary new findings are raising concerns about the long-term effect of mild COVID-19 infection on neurological health and cognition.

Use of menopausal hormone therapy (MHT, also known as hormone replacement therapy, HRT) is not associated with an increased risk of developing dementia, regardless of hormone type, dose, or duration, concludes a large UK study.

Recent research provides empirical evidence to show the brain’s predictive ability forms the basis for musical phrasing.

Memories of past events and experiences are what define us as who we are, and yet the ability to form these episodic memories declines with age, certain dementias, and brain injury. However, a new study shows that low frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation—or rTMS—delivered over the left prefrontal cortex of the brain can improve memory performance by reducing the power of low frequency brain waves as memories form.

Finally this week, a new brain imaging study shows that the hippocampus is the brain’s storyteller, connecting separate, distant events into a single narrative.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Microglial cells – (blue: the cell nuclei) can join together using tubular projections (red) to degrade dangerous proteins in a division of labor. Credit: AG Heneka/University of Bonn

To break down toxic proteins more quickly, immune cells in the brain can join together to form networks when needed. However, certain mutations associated with Parkinson’s disease can impair this process.

New work shows that neurons and other brain cells use DNA double-strand breaks, often associated with cancer, neurodegeneration and aging, to quickly express genes related to learning and memory.

New research has identified specific drug targets within the neural circuits that encode memories, paving the way for significant advances in the treatment of a broad spectrum of brain disorders.

Pioneering research shows that dopamine levels increase in response to stressful stimuli, and not just pleasurable ones, potentially rewriting facts about the “feel-good” hormone—a critical mediator of many psychiatric diseases. This discovery is cause to rethink treatment for psychiatric disease and addiction.

A new study links viral infections including mononucleosis and pneumonia experienced during adolescence with an increased risk of developing multiple sclerosis.

Researchers have discovered a new gene therapy pathway that has uncovered an important regulatory mechanism to keep our genome healthy. This pathway has the potential to protect us against serious life-limiting diseases such as cancer and dementia.

Neuroscientists have discovered specific types of neurons within the memory center of the brain that are responsible for acquiring new associative memories.

Amyloid protein made in the liver can cause neurodegeneration in the brain, according to a new study in the open-access journal PLOS Biology. Since the protein is thought to be a key contributor to development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the results suggest that the liver may play an important role in the onset or progression of the disease.

Higher glucose levels detected by a two-hour glucose test were an accurate predictor of poorer performance in tests of episodic memory ten years later, according to new research

A worsening cardiovascular profile after menopause may contribute to the fact that women are disproportionately affected by dementia. A new study identified a link between cardiovascular fat volume and radiodensity and cognitive function, as well as racial differences in this association.

Finally this week, a new study finds dopamine increases responses to stressful stimuli, not just pleasurable ones. The findings could have implications for the treatment of mental health disorders and addiction.

 

The Neuroscience of Change

Significant change can be stressful.

It challenges our ability to cope and drains our resilience.

With change comes a new set of challenges including how to take advantage of the change scenario and assert an element of control by managing our emotions.

I was invited to give a talk to staff of the British Embassy in Ireland on the topic of the neuroscience of change.

You can view a slide summary of my talk below.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Those who exercise regularly may lower their risk of developing anxiety by 60%, researchers report.

A study published in the journal Sleep shows that a deep neural network model can accurately predict the brain age of healthy patients based on electroencephalogram data recorded during an overnight sleep study, and EEG-predicted brain age indices display unique characteristics within populations with different diseases.

A new study reveals a correlation between instances of eye contact and higher levels of engagement during conversations.

Researchers have developed a deep learning-based method that can predict the possible onset of Alzheimer’s disease from brain images with an accuracy of over 99 per cent. The method was developed while analysing functional MRI images obtained from 138 subjects and performed better in terms of accuracy, sensitivity and specificity than previously developed methods.

Scientists in Japan have identified metabolic compounds within the blood that are associated with dementia.

New research published in Cortex provides evidence that a brain region known as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex contributes to cognitive biases in decision making. People with damage to this area of the brain often experience changes in personality and social behavior. But the new findings suggest that ventromedial prefrontal cortex damage can also make people more rational under some circumstances.

An immunological molecule called fractalkine can boost the production of brain cells that produce myelin, a key factor in diseases such as multiple sclerosis, according to recent research from the University of Alberta.

According to two studies conducted in Serbia during the COVID-19 lockdown, elite athletes and individuals who engaged in vigorous levels of exercise demonstrated the lowest psychological distress during this time. The findings, published in Frontiers in Psychology, further underscored the importance of adaptability, showing that athletes who reduced their training schedules during the early stages of lockdown showed lower distress than those who maintained them.

Finally this week, a new AI algorithm can predict the onset of Alzheimer’s disease with an accuracy of over 99% by analyzing fMRI brain scans.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

New research reveals that neurons in the visual cortex—the part of the brain that processes visual stimuli—change their responses to the same stimulus over time.

Menopause can mess with your memory, and a new study has identified four profiles of cognitive function that may help researchers understand why memory declines for some women and not others. This adds to the mounting evidence of the memory changes that can happen when menopause approaches and could lead to better guidance and treatment for patients experiencing memory issues.

Testing for some inflammatory proteins associated with the nervous and immune systems will help diagnose the earlier onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a Rutgers study.

Researchers have recently carried out a study investigating the role of the X-chromosome on human brain anatomy. Their findings, published in a paper in Nature Neuroscience, highlight the key role of the X-chromosome in human neurodevelopment.

A new study explores a new non-dopamine reward circuitry in the brain.

An analysis of data from 1.5 million people has identified 579 locations in the genome associated with a predisposition to different behaviors and disorders related to self-regulation, including addiction and child behavioral problems.

Virtual reality helps to relieve pain and anxiety for children undergoing medical procedures, researchers report.

Scientists have long suspected that religiosity and spirituality could be mapped to specific brain circuits, but the location of those circuits remains unknown. Now, a new study using novel technology and the human connectome, a map of neural connections, has identified a brain circuit that seems to mediate that aspect of our personality.

Finally this week, researchers reveal the neurobiological basis of why we often find it more difficult to find the right words as we age.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Two new research studies have identified the neural signals underlying music imagery. These neural signals are related to melodic expectations and predictions.

Short naps of up to 60 minutes in duration do not mitigate the effects of a night of sleep deprivation, a new study reports. However, the amount of slow-wave sleep achieved during a nap was related to reduced impairments associated with sleep deprivation.

30% of people reported changes in cognition, memory, and problems with information processing as a result of social isolation caused by pandemic lockdowns.

Some proteins in cells can separate into small droplets like oil droplets in water, but faults in this process may underlie neurodegenerative diseases in the brains of older people. Now, Rutgers researchers have developed a new method to quantify protein droplets involved in these diseases.

A new study reveals how dopamine may have a central role in maintaining our consciousness.

It’s long been known that opioid overdose deaths are caused by disrupted breathing, but the actual mechanism by which these drugs suppress respiration was not understood. Now, a new study by Salk scientists has identified a group of neurons in the brainstem that plays a key role in this process.

A new advanced imaging technique shows how cholesterol regulates the production of Alzheimer’s associated amyloid beta proteins in astrocytes.

A recent experimental study shows how regular physical exercise modulates iron metabolism in both the brain and the muscles. The findings also help to better understand the benefits of exercise in Alzheimer’s disease.

A new AI model can accurately classify a brain tumor of one of six common cancer types from a single MRI brain scan image.

A tiny region in the middle of the brain plays a far more important role than previously known in helping it respond to changes in the environment, a new study shows.

The brain’s white matter pathway organization during the first year of life may predict language acquisition and development at age five, researchers say.

Finally this week, mindfulness may provide modest benefits to cognition, particularly among older adults, finds a new review of evidence.