Weekly Neuroscience Update

New research has revealed how acute stress can affect the connectivity of different brain regions, leading to increased neural activity and changes in behavior.

New research has found that sleep has a crucial role in preparing the body to fight off infections. During sleep, the immune system produces cytokines, which help in fighting infections, inflammation, and stress. In contrast, sleep deprivation can weaken the immune system and increase the likelihood of getting sick. The study also found that sleeping for longer periods before an infection occurs can improve the chances of fighting it off.

A research team has found that people with chronic pain in multiple parts of the body had a higher risk of dementia and experienced broader and faster cognitive decline, including memory, executive function, learning, and attention.

Researchers have discovered how changes in blood vessels in the eye can be used to predict the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness. The researchers used high-resolution imaging techniques to measure the density of blood vessels in the retina of patients with AMD. They found that decreased blood vessel density in certain areas of the retina was associated with the progression of the disease.

A new study has identified changes in the levels of certain proteins in the blood of women with perinatal depression (depression during pregnancy or after childbirth).

A new brain connection discovered by researchers can explain how early-life stress and adversity trigger disrupted operation of the brain’s reward circuit, offering a new therapeutic target for treating mental illness. Impaired function of this circuit is thought to underlie several major disorders, such as depression, substance abuse and excessive risk-taking.

A study at the University of Tsukuba in Japan has found that routine exercise helps prevent cognitive impairment in older adults, with exercising alone being beneficial, but exercising with others having an even greater positive effect.

Although investigators have made strides in detecting signs of Alzheimer’s disease using high-quality brain imaging tests collected as part of research studies, a research team has developed an accurate method for detection that relies on routinely collected clinical brain images. The advance could lead to more accurate diagnoses.

Finally, this week, seizures can be predicted more than 30 minutes before onset in patients with temporal lobe epilepsy, opening the door to a therapy using electrodes that could be activated to prevent seizures from happening, according to new research.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Any regular leisure-time physical activity at any age is linked to better brain function in later life, but maintaining an exercise routine throughout adulthood seems to be best for preserving mental acuity and memory, suggests a long-term study published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

Researchers have conducted a world-first pilot study investigating a sleep intervention for autistic adults, showing promising evidence at reducing insomnia and co-occurring anxiety symptoms.

Patients with Parkinson’s disease achieved a significant improvement in their tremors, mobility, and other physical symptoms after having a minimally invasive procedure involving focused ultrasound, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers have identified a mechanism for how signals from the environment are integrated with genetic information to influence the health and survival of brain cells, providing insight into the development of Parkinson’s disease.

A new study suggests a link between irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. The study found that individuals with IBS were more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression than those without IBS.

In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers developed an electronic implant that collected information about brain activity from a single neuron for over one year.

A new AI-powered tool developed by researchers can predict which patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) are most likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. The tool uses machine learning algorithms to analyze data from brain scans, blood tests, and cognitive assessments to identify specific biomarkers associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Finally this week, a person’s personality and psychopathology levels may be associated with how strongly they prefer to focus on human faces within images, according to a study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

A study of brain function in cosmonauts reveals how the brain’s organization changes after an extended period in space, demonstrating the adaption required to live in a weightless environment.

Researchers are turning to artificial intelligence to find novel drugs that can block kappa opioid receptors with the hope to alleviate opioid addiction. The kappa opioid receptor is a protein in the brain that plays a role in pain management and addiction. When opioids bind to this receptor, it can produce a range of effects, including pain relief, as well as addiction and dependence.

Adults with high levels of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms are more likely to experience anxiety and depression than adults with high levels of autistic traits, according to new research.

Scientists studying sleep difficulties have now published data in Frontiers in Neuroscience that shows that, even in an urban population experiencing disrupted sleep, humans experience longer REM sleep in winter than in summer and less deep sleep in autumn.

Regardless of the game type or length of time a child plays a video game, there is no correlation with a decline in cognitive ability, a new study reports.

Researchers have identified the in-vivo dynamics of synapses that underlie fear memory formation and extinction in the living brain. Fear memory formation and extinction are complex processes that involve changes in the connections between neurons, or synapses, in the brain. Understanding these processes at the level of individual synapses can provide important insights into the neural mechanisms of fear and anxiety disorders.

New research has found that children with conduct disorders exposed to maltreatment showed far more extensive changes in brain structure compared to children with conduct disorders who were not mistreated.

While kleptomania meets the criteria of addiction and is classified as a “Disruptive, Impulse-Control, and Conduct Disorder” by the American Psychiatry Society, few studies of the condition have been published to date. Now a team of researchers has recently found that patients with kleptomania exhibit distinct patterns of gazing and brain activity when shown images with environmental cues relevant to their symptoms. Such characteristics were not observed in healthy subjects.

Finally this week, researchers who examined the relationship between making music and mental health have found that musically active people have, on average, a slightly higher genetic risk for depression and bipolar disorder.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Researchers have investigated whether the perception of time changes with age, and if so, how, and why we perceive the passage of time differently.

In a study recently published in Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, researchers have revealed changes in the cerebral neural network that could function as a biomarker for degenerative neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies—abnormal protein deposits in the brain.

Experiencing three or more concussions is linked with worsened brain function in later life, according to new research.

Levodopa, a drug commonly prescribed for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease that increases dopamine in the brain has been found to have the potential to reverse the effects of inflammation on brain reward circuitry, ultimately improving symptoms of depression.

A team of researchers has found evidence linking motor neurons’ large cell size and supporting structure with the genes that underlie their vulnerability to degeneration in ALS.

A new study has examined the pain perception among people with autism and found that they experience pain at a higher intensity than the general population and are less adaptable to the sensation. This finding is contrary to the prevalent belief that people with autism are supposedly ‘indifferent to pain’. The researchers expressed the hope that the findings of their study will lead to more appropriate treatment on the part of medical staff, caregivers, and parents toward people with autism, who do not always express the experience of pain in the usual way.

Researchers have identified two distinct processes that are triggered in the brain when a person is exposed to prolonged or repeated sensory input.

Among people who received more intensive treatment for high blood pressure, evaluations of MRI scans indicated a positive change in brain structures involved in its ability to clear toxins and other byproducts, according to preliminary research to be presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2023.

New research has linked major depression in older adults to mitochondrial deterioration.

People exposed to noise pollution as a result of heavy traffic close to their homes are at greater risk of developing tinnitus, a new study reports. Tinnitus is a condition where an individual hears ringing, buzzing, or whistling sounds in their ears, even when there is no external source of the sound. Prolonged exposure to loud noise can cause damage to the hair cells in the inner ear, which are responsible for transmitting sound to the brain. As a result, the brain can create its own sounds, leading to tinnitus.

Finally this week, cinnamon could do more than just wake up your taste buds. A new study reveals eating products with cinnamon can help improve memory and learning, and may also reduce some symptoms of anxiety.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Researchers have developed a new brain imaging method that uses pulsed laser light to monitor cerebral blood flow more accurately than more traditional methods.

Researchers say specific gut bacteria could play a significant role in the development of Type 2 diabetes. People with higher levels of the gut bacteria Coprococcus tend to have higher insulin sensitivity, while those with higher levels of Flavonifractor have lower levels of insulin sensitivity.

Common levels of pollution from traffic can impair brain function within a matter of hours, a new study reports. Just two hours of exposure to diesel exhaust impairs functional connectivity in the brain.

Even a simple movement like pushing a button sends ripples of activity throughout networks of neurons spanning across the brain, new research shows. The finding highlights just how complex the human brain is, challenging the simplified textbook picture of distinct brain areas dedicated to specific functions.

In many neurodegenerative conditions, brain changes occur before symptoms emerge. But now, researchers from Japan have found a new way to distinguish these conditions in the early stages according to changes in brain activity patterns.

Researchers have developed an AI model capable of accurately capturing cognitive decline by measuring how fast the brain is aging. Findings reveal sex-specific differences in how the brain ages. Certain regions of the brain age faster in males than in females, and vice versa. The model has far-reaching applications that extend into personalized medicine and can be used to design patient-tailored interventions for a wide range of brain health concerns.

Finally this week, a healthy diet is associated with slower memory decline, finds a decade-long study of older adults in China, published in The BMJ.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Music can induce a range of emotions and help us to better understand different cultures. But what is it that makes us tune in to some songs more than others? Researchers say when we listen to a song, our brains predict what happens next, and that prediction dictates whether we like that song or not.

New research has found significant changes in fathers’ brains between the prenatal and the postpartum period. The main changes occurred in cortical areas associated with visual processing, attention, and empathy toward their baby.

Objective measurement of psychiatric disorders has long proved challenging. Yet, there is ample evidence that analysis of speech patterns can accurately diagnose depression and psychosis, measure their severity, and predict their onset, according to a literature review featured in the January/February issue of the Harvard Review of Psychiatry

Alzheimer’s disease onset may be accelerated by viruses that inflame and disrupt signals from the olfactory system to the hippocampus, a new study reports.

As many as one in four patients who receive anesthesia may suffer accidental awareness during their procedure. Researchers have identified specific brain structures that may predict whether a person will experience accidental awareness under anesthesia. The findings will help identify patients who require higher-than-average doses of anesthesia.

A new study aims to investigate the interaction between the digestive and nervous systems, or the gut-brain axis, to discover more about the links between digestive health and neurodegenerative diseases.

Neuroscientists have now shown that two distinct cell populations in the striatum are affected differently by Huntington’s disease. They believe that neurodegeneration of one of these populations leads to motor impairments, while damage to the other population, located in structures called striosomes, may account for the mood disorders that are often seen in the early stages of the disease.

Finally this week, older adults with cognitive decline who have higher levels of vitamin D in their brains had better cognitive function than their peers with lower levels of vitamin D according to a new study.

The Neurobiology of Leadership

Brains, leadership and belief

In the summer of 1963, a quarter of a million people showed up at the mall in Washington D.C. to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak.

Dr. King was not the only man in America who was a great orator.

Nor was he the only man who suffered in a pre-civil rights America.

But he had a gift.

He did not tell people what needed to change in America.

He told people what he believed; and the people who believed what he believed took his cause, made it their own, and created structures to get the word out to others such that 250,000 people showed up on the right day and at the right time to hear him speak.

Many traveled long distances to Washington for what they themselves believed about America. It was not about black versus white: 25% of the audience was white. 

Higher authority

Dr King believed that there were two types of laws in the world: those that are made by a higher authority and those that are made by men; and not until all the laws that are made by men are consistent with the laws that are made by the higher authority will we live in a just world. It just so happens that the civil-rights movement was the perfect vehicle to help him bring his cause to life. 

There are leaders, and there are those who lead

Dr King gave the ‘I have a dream’ speech, not the ‘I have a plan’ speech. We listen to politicians now with their comprehensive 12-point plans. That is not leadership and it is not inspiring anybody.

Today, there are leaders, and there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or authority, but those who lead inspire us. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves.

Those who start with a belief have the ability to inspire those around them and to find others who inspire them.    

Is the brain wired for beliefs? 

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 old questions as why beliefs are so important to us.

One answer is that the brain is wired to make predictions about what is going to happen next based on what has happened in the past, and in some ways, predictions are like beliefs. For instance, scientists write about scientific predictions as if they are beliefs or explanations that are pre-emptively offered to anticipate and explain the world as we see it. 

Uncertainty can make you sick

Knowing that the brain is wired for prediction explains why we find uncertainty so stressful and if it persists, it can actually make us sick. In this way, religious beliefs can reduce the uncertainty of our own experiences by explaining the unexplainable. This also accounts for why those things we now explain through science were once thought of as magic or caused by a deity. 

Meaning is not innate and must be manufactured

The explanation that the brain is wired for prediction is a general explanation to understanding how we make meaning. The brain of a newborn is not just a miniature version of an adult brain. Its wiring is incomplete. What infants are doing is waiting for a set of wiring instructions from the world. In this way, the people who raised you influenced the wiring of your brain including what to believe and what is meaningful to you. 

We have one self-creating freedom 

As we mature into adulthood, we have one self-creating freedom in that we can accept or reject these instructions. In this way, a person is what he makes himself to be, and those who lead and inspire us help facilitate this process.

We follow those who lead not because we have to, but because we want to. We have to value this self-creating freedom that is enjoyed in our time.

New Year, New You: Use These Science-Backed Techniques to Achieve Your Goals


Happy New Year!

Have you made any new year’s resolutions this year?

Despite the high failure rate of these resolutions – research by British psychologist Richard Wiseman in 2007 has shown that 88% of all resolutions end in failure – many continue to make the same resolutions year in and year out.

But just why are our old habits so hard to break?

The Science of Willpower

The brain area primarily responsible for willpower is the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for decision-making and goal-directed behavior, and the basal ganglia, which are involved in the formation of habits. When we make a resolution to change a behavior, our prefrontal cortex becomes active as we consider the pros and cons of the change and make a decision to pursue it. The basal ganglia are also involved in the process, as they help to encode the new behavior as a habit.

Making a resolution to change a behavior activates the brain’s reward system, releasing neurotransmitters such as dopamine that can motivate us to pursue the desired change. However, this initial burst of motivation can often wane over time, making it difficult to maintain the new behavior. This is where the basal ganglia come in, as they help to consolidate the new behavior into a long-term habit that requires less conscious effort to maintain. When we perform a behavior repeatedly, the neural pathways associated with that behavior become stronger, making it easier for us to perform the behavior automatically. This is known as habit formation.

Breaking a habit requires breaking these neural connections and replacing them with new ones. This can be difficult because it requires a lot of conscious effort and often involves stepping outside of our comfort zone. It can also be challenging because habits often serve a purpose in our lives, such as providing a sense of structure or helping us to cope with stress.

One way to break a habit is to identify the triggers that lead to the undesirable behavior and find ways to avoid or modify them. It can also be helpful to replace the undesirable behaviour with a new, more desirable behavior that serves the same purpose. For example, if you want to break the habit of snacking on unhealthy foods when you’re feeling stressed, you might try replacing this behavior with a healthier coping mechanism such as going for a walk or practicing deep breathing.

5 Evidence-Based Tips To Help You Achieve Your New Year’s Resolutions

  1. Use implementation intentions: These are specific plans that outline when, where, and how you will carry out your resolution. For example, you might say, “I will go to the gym every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 PM.” Research has shown that people who use implementation intentions are more likely to follow through on their goals.

  2. Get accountability from others: Research has shown that people who have someone to hold them accountable for their actions are more likely to stick to their resolutions. You might enlist a friend or coach to check in with you regularly or join a support group where you can share your progress and get feedback.

  3. Make the behavior automatic: As mentioned earlier, habits are formed through repetition. By performing a behavior repeatedly, it becomes easier to do automatically. To make your resolution a habit, try to incorporate it into your daily routine.

  4. Use positive self-talk: Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of your resolution, try to focus on the positive benefits. For example, instead of saying “I can’t eat junk food,” try saying “I choose to eat healthy foods because they make me feel energised and strong.” This positive self-talk can help to motivate you to stick to your resolution.

  5. Expect setbacks and plan for them: It’s normal to encounter setbacks when trying to make a change. To increase your chances of success, plan for these setbacks and have a strategy in place for how to handle them. For example, if you’re trying to quit smoking and you have a craving, you might plan to go for a walk or call a supportive friend instead of lighting up a cigarette.

You might also find it helpful to watch this excellent video from Dr. Mike Evans.

Making a New Year’s resolution can be a powerful way to make positive changes in your life. However, it’s important to approach these resolutions with a plan in place to increase your chances of success. With dedication and perseverance, you can achieve your goals and make the positive changes you desire in the new year.


Weekly Neuroscience Update

New research suggests that the brain of a bilingual person who knows two alphabets is different from that of a bilingual person who only knows one alphabet. The differences occur in a region called the visual word form area (VWFA).

A new study reports chronic infections of the upper gastrointestinal tract could be linked to Parkinson’s disease. Researchers say alpha synuclein, a Parkinson’s linked protein, is released during upper GI infections, inducing an immune response. Findings suggest frequent chronic infections could overwhelm the body’s ability to remove the protein, leading to the onset of Parkinson’s.

New research has found significant changes in fathers’ brains between the prenatal and the postpartum period. The main changes occurred in cortical areas associated with visual processing, attention, and empathy toward their baby.

A novel deep learning method that uses graph convolutional neural networks (gCNNs) can predict cognitive function based on the brain’s size and structure. The algorithm may provide insights into the relationship between brain morphology and different cognitive functions, as well as declines in cognitive function.

A study led by researchers at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute links psychological trauma in childhood with an increased risk of developing some kind of mental disorder years later.

Music can induce a range of emotions and help us to better understand different cultures. But what is it that makes us tune in to some songs more than others? Researchers say when we listen to a song, our brains predict what happens next, and that prediction dictates whether we like that song or not.

Finally this week, a new study published by University of Oxford researchers in JMIR Pediatrics and Parenting, shows that although many school-age adolescents are spending considerable time gaming, it is not having a negative impact on their well-being.