Weekly Neuroscience Update

A new study explores the use of music-listening to relieve acute pain, finding that people who were given the impression that they had control over the music they heard experienced more pain relief than people who were not given such control.

Better diagnosis and treatment of the incurable eye disease age-related macular degeneration is a step closer, thanks to the discovery of new genetic signatures of the disease.

Research continues to demonstrate the many ways the gut microbiome can influence human health, and an active area within this field centres on its role in Alzheimer’s disease. A new study has furthered our knowledge of this relationship by demonstrating what’s described as a clear genetic link between the two, while also pointing to the potential for new treatments.

Neuroscientists have confirmed that the exact same network is activated in speakers of 45 different languages representing 12 distinct language families.   

Pollution is widely known to be a risk to individual’s physical health, but can it have adverse effects on mental health as well? A study published in Developmental Psychology suggests that exposure to ozone can be a risk factor for depression in adolescents.

Researchers have developed a comprehensive “toolbox” to establish that the mobility of receptors exists in intact brain tissue, and this mobility is critical for certain types of memory.

People challenged with chronic back pain have been given hope with a new treatment that focuses on retraining how the back and the brain communicate, a randomised controlled trial run by researchers at UNSW Sydney and Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) and several other Australian and European universities has shown.

A group of hippocampal neurons show rhythmic activity at different frequencies in the desynchronized state, but can align their rhythmic frequency to produce a synchronized brain rhythm upon activation.

A new hypothesis suggests when people are awake during the biological circadian night there are neurophysiological changes in the brain that alters the way in which we interact with the world, especially when it comes to impulse control, information processing, and reward processing.

Finally this week, you’re fast asleep. But some regions of your brain tasked with hearing sound aren’t taking the night off, according to new research.

The Neurobiology of Human Intelligence

Understand (verb): to stand in the midst of, among, between. 

Intelligence (noun):  from the Latin words, inter (between), and legere (choose).

First things first – mushrooms

It was Charles Darwin who wrote that intelligence is based on how efficient a species becomes at doing the things it needs to survive.  If that is the case, then the 2.5 billion-year-old fungi are undoubtedly the most intelligent organisms on Earth. Most think that fungi just make mushrooms, but the unrelenting growth of fungal stems (hyphae) which are five times thinner than human hair, and the enzyme cocktail they excrete, is enough to shatter the hardest rock repeatedly, creating the first soils in a bare landscape. In addition, fungi hold that soil in place with their dense root-like net (mycelium).  

Fungi shaped and guided the force of life on Earth

It is fungi who helped pave the way for modern plants and animals to colonise virgin ground and it was likely fungi who help plants to make the leap from our lakes and seas onto land 470 Million years ago. Fungi have enabled, shaped and guided the force of life on Earth.

Have transcendental fungi influenced human intelligence? 

Some psychoactive fungi otherwise known as magic mushrooms contain a chemical compound called psilocybin (pronounced silo-sigh-bin) that can produce hallucinations like that of LSD and ergot, which are produced by mushrooms, and there are many such mushrooms capable of producing similar experiences. Ancient cave art indicates a reverence for these ‘spiritual’ mushrooms.  In fact, some scholars suggest that the hallucinogenic effects of these mushrooms can explain the puzzling speed by which human culture, social structure; commerce, art and religion emerged about 70,000 years ago – by allowing our ancestors to expand their minds in the first place. Mushrooms may indeed be the architects of modern human intelligence.

Can we ever know 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. 

Why we cannot impose our beliefs on the universe

We humans are only as intelligent as the knowledge we have to work with. For centuries deep thinkers thought of earth, air, fire and water as the fundamental elements. It was a reductionist idea and nothing was more fundamental that those four elements and you could build everything up from them. Then, in the mid-1800’s we discovered the periodic table of the elements so while we continued to study Earth (geology), air (meteorology), fire (combustion) and water (hydrology) we became aware that for instance since the Earth is made from many elements, Earth itself was no longer fundamental. 

The atomic age

After the periodic table came the modern atomic age including the discovery of the smallest particles namely quarks, leptons and gluons – the basis of today’s standard model of physics. So today, we know that while the periodic table is good for chemistry it is no longer fundamental, and for the deep fundamentals, we have to go to quarks leptons and gluons, and so on – irreducible representations of matter in space-time.

Space, time and beyond

Today, most scientists assume that space-time is as fundamental as the tiny particles, which are embedded within it. In fact, the whole framework of human understanding of the natural world (reality) is based on this idea of space-time. While no one can state the future with any certainty, who is to say that patterns outside of space and time may be our next revelation, and our current framework will be proven no longer fundamental? 

Modes of human understanding

Science (natural philosophy) is the study of reality and is grounded on findings based on tests and experiments. The mantra of science is that we should never take anything on faith. Faith is the enemy of science. With science, you do not lose anything by losing faith; in fact, what you gain is reality. By its very nature, science is uncertain and it is this uncertainty that drives us forward to understand ourselves in the world including the things we need to survive. 

There be dragons

A second mode of human understanding is supernatural philosophy, which is grounded in faith in the existence of unobservable entities including Gods, messiahs, spirits, souls, angels, devils, and so on. Humans crave familiarity and find certainty intrinsically pleasing and these supernatural beliefs are for the most part benign, and they may be psychologically useful if they do not involve making sacrifices that are ultimately irrational or being manipulated by others. 

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the smartest of them all?

Aristotle (384-322 BC) argued that intelligence is an exclusive gift from God to mankind, and human intelligence has been defined in many ways: the capacity for logic, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, reasoning, planning, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving. However, as fungi have shown us, evolution’s blind design has struck on intelligent solutions across the whole of nature. 

A universal theory of intelligence?

Science reveals that intelligence may also exist in non-living systems, and it is very possible that artificial intelligence (AI) models don’t need to mimic the human brain at all. Airplanes fly despite bearing little resemblance to birds. Still, it is crucial to remember, as we catalogue the details of how intelligence is implemented in the brain, that all we may be doing is describing the emperor’s clothes in the absence of the emperor. What is emerging is a bigger framework of types of intelligences, and the key for humanity will be to recognise them in all their guises.

A rapid leap in human understanding is now necessary 

As we face the new challenges of climate change and mass extinction, we need to expand our awareness to quickly adapt, as our ancestors did 70,000 years ago. Just as an ant cannot appreciate the level of living that a human can enjoy, so most of us do not know what is possible if we never look beyond our little worlds. The key to our survival can be summarized in one sentence, and here it is. We should be able to live in the world and improve it, and not just be another product of it.

A creative and conscious response to the world

Modern transcendentalism argues that insight and experience are more important than logic; that spirituality (one’s relationship with the self, others, nature, and whatever else one considers the ultimate connection) should come from the self, not from organized religion; that humanity can be corrupted by society and institutions, and that nature is beautiful and should be respected. This speaks to the very heart of our human condition, and to the ideas of fortune by which we live. Indeed, this idea may be the creative and conscious response to the world that we need today in order to survive.

Our mission should we decide to accept it

Our rapidly changing planet has created an urgent need for us to detach from old ways of thinking and doing – to protect our planet and the other animals that we share it with. A rapid leap in human understanding is now necessary for humanity to create a strong and healthy ecosystem – to coexist with all life on Earth in a way that was not possible before. A world where there are no excuses only opportunities.  Like our ancestors, we are quite capable of detachment or transcendence, and this may be why we will not just endure, but shape and guide the force of life across our galaxy and beyond.

May the force be with you

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Credit: Science Advances (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abo0171

New evidence that suggests the SARS-CoV-2 virus is able to enter the brain by using nose cells to make nanotube tunnels is published in the journal Science Advances.

Exploring the predictive properties of neuronal metabolism can contribute to our understanding of how humans learn and remember. This key finding from a consideration of molecular mechanisms of learning and memory conducted by scientists from Russia and the U.S. has been published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews

Older adults who suffer from hypothyroidism are at increased risk of developing dementia. The risk is even higher in those who require thyroid hormone replacement therapy to treat their condition.

Researchers have shown that the computational imaging technique, known as “ghost imaging”, can be combined with human vision to reconstruct the image of objects hidden from view by analyzing how the brain processes barely visible reflections on a wall.

Scientists have discovered that an injury to one part of the brain changes the connections between nerve cells across the entire brain. 

Researchers have discovered the molecule in the brain responsible for associating good or bad feelings with a memory. Their discovery, published in Nature paves the way for a better understanding of why some people are more likely to retain negative emotions than positive ones—as can occur with anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

New research has revealed some of the first detailed molecular clues associated with one of the leading causes of death and disability, a condition known as traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Pollution is widely known to be a risk to individual’s physical health, but can it have adverse effects on mental health as well? A study published in Developmental Psychology suggests that exposure to ozone can be a risk factor for depression in adolescents.

Finally this week, you’re fast asleep. But some regions of your brain tasked with hearing sound aren’t taking the night off, according to new research.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

While depression is a common problem for people who have had a stroke, some people may have symptoms of depression years before their stroke, according to a study published in Neurology.

New research shows visual scanpaths during memory retrieval tasks were associated with the quality of the memory. Researchers say the replay of a sequence of eye movements helps boost memory reconstruction.

A new neuroimaging study reveals every person has unique brain anatomy. The uniqueness is a result of a combination of genetic factors and life experiences, researchers report.

Adolescents are over three times more vulnerable to developing a cannabis addiction than adults, but may not be at increased risk of other mental health problems related to the drug, finds a new study led by UCL and King’s College London researchers.

Researchers have developed a chop stick-like device that uses a weak electrical current to stimulate the tongue and enhance the taste of salt. The device could help to reduce dietary sodium intake by up to 30%.

Socially anxious women exhibit heightened oxytocin reactivity to psychosocial stress, according to new research published in Psychoneuroendocrinology. The study provides evidence that the hormone plays a role in physiological reactions to socially stressful situations.

Delayed circadian rhythms and sleep disruptions may be a cause of teen depression, rather than a symptom that develops as a result of the mental health disorder.

Health researchers have contributed to an international study published in Nature Neuroscience that sheds light on the mechanism by which anti-anxiety drugs act on the brain which could lead to cognitive impairment in vulnerable individuals.

A new machine-learning algorithm is able to accurately detect cognitive impairment by analyzing voice recordings.

Protein buildups like those seen around neurons in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other brain diseases occur in all aging cells, a new study suggests. Learning their significance may reveal new strategies for treating age-related diseases.

Finally, this week, having positive social interactions is associated with older adults’ sense of purposefulness, which can fluctuate from day to day, according to recent research.

World First: Aquatic Therapy Guidelines for Parkinson’s Disease [Infographic]

I’m delighted to share the recent publication of new international aquatic therapy guidelines for Parkinson’s disease – a world-first in achieving international consensus on the evidence-based application of aquatic therapy in the treatment of the illness.

Aquatic therapy involves water immersion as an exercise and rehabilitation medium to improve the physical capacity and psychosocial wellbeing of those living with Parkinson’s disease. Positive effects include reduced disability with improved mobility and balance in those with mild to moderate illness. 

The guidelines are based on robust research evidence, the opinions of people living with the illness, and on practice-based expertise stemming from international expert consensus. The inclusion of a panel of patient stakeholders in the research process gave added strength and depth to the aquatic therapy practice guidelines by ensuring that the new guidelines could be tailored to individual patient abilities and needs.

Another key strength of this research was the development of guidelines based on evidence-based practice, which is often missing from clinical practice settings. This is because healthcare professionals often have limited time to review all the available literature and work within the ideals of evidence-based practice.

In another innovation, the guidelines were published in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease as a  two-page guideline infographic specifically designed for easy dissemination via social media platforms. 

This infographic provides internationally agreed practical, systematic guide to clinicians in implementing an effective therapy programme tailored to individual patient needs.

aquatic therapy parkinsons

Notes & References

[1] Carroll, L.M., Morris, M.E., O’Connor, W.T., Volpe, D., Salsberg, J., and Clifford, A.M. (2021) ‘Evidence-based aquatic therapy guidelines for Parkinson’s disease: an international consensus study,’ Journal of Parkinson’s disease, 12, 621-637, available: doi.org/10.3233/JPD-212881 

[2] Carroll, L.M., Morris, M.E., O’Connor, W.T. and Clifford, A.M. (2021) ‘Community Aquatic Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease: An International Qualitative Study’, Disability and Rehabilitation, available: doi.org/10.1080/09638288.2021.1906959. 

[3] Carroll, L.M., Morris, M.E., O’Connor, W.T. and Clifford, A.M. (2020) ‘Is aquatic therapy optimally prescribed for Parkinson’s disease? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis’, Journal of Parkinson’s disease, 10(2), 59-76, available: doi.org/10.3233/JPD-191784

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Intriguing new research has pinpointed a special population of T cells—tissue-resident memory T cells—as key players in the development of chronic autoimmune disorders that affect the central nervous system, opening a new window of understanding into conditions such as multiple sclerosis and many others.

New research shows emotional regulation was linked to theta wave activity in the frontal cortex of the brain.

Researchers have recently carried out a study investigating the relationship between age and the functional coupling between specific neural networks in the brain. Their paper, published in Psychology and Aging, shows that the connectivity between certain brain regions can predict people’s chronological age with a high level of accuracy.

Men who experience behavior changes including apathy or having false beliefs and perceptions in later life are at risk of faster cognitive decline than women, according to new research. 

A new study shows that children younger than their classmates within a school year are more likely to be treated for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), suggesting immaturity may influence diagnosis.

Finally this week, researchers have identified a novel gene called MGMT that appears to increase Alzheimer’s disease risk in women.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

A newly designed baby jumpsuit that monitors motor development carries the possibility for assessing overall neurodevelopment in infants. It is now commonly accepted that the motor development of a young child is not independent of all other neurocognitive development. The strong innate drive of the child to move has emerged from a clear need: the child must move a lot to gain experience and learn from the surrounding environment. It is now commonly accepted that the motor development of a young child is not independent of all other neurocognitive development. The strong innate drive of the child to move has emerged from a clear need: the child must move a lot to gain experience and learn from the surrounding environment.

A new brain mapping study finds damage to one part of the brain changes connections between neurons across the entire brain.

A recent study, published in Neurology, shows that social isolation is linked to changes in brain structure and cognition – the mental process of acquiring knowledge – it even carries an increased risk of dementia in older adults.

Measuring the electrical activity of the retina in response to light stimulus could be a biomarker for ADHD and autism, researchers report.

A large international team of researchers has found 69 unique genetic variants linked to the ability to keep time to a beat. In their paper published in the journal Nature Human Behavior, the group describes their genetic study involving more than 600,000 volunteers.

Researchers have identified the exertion level where aerosol particle emission increases exponentially, offering an explanation as to why exercise intensity may be linked to the transmission of infections.

New research reports girls and boys show similar rates of concern for autism spectrum disorder and identifies several biases contributing to the inflated sex ratio for autism diagnosis. The findings could help with the early identification of girls on the autism spectrum.

Finally this week a new study has identified potential targets to develop a therapy that could prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Measuring changes in the activity of neurons in a cortical area while perturbing the activity in another area. Credit: Sainsbury Wellcome Centre

Researchers have discovered how two neocortical areas in the brain communicate with one another and found that their influence on each other changes over much faster timescales than previously thought.

Neuroscientists using MRI scans discovered that psychopathic people have a 10% larger striatum, a cluster of neurons in the subcortical basal ganglia of the forebrain, than regular people. This represents a clear biological distinction between psychopaths and non-psychopathic people.

Glycan, a special sugar protein, appears to play a significant role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Genetic studies have offered clues, identifying genes associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder, but despite finding many pieces to the puzzle, scientists have not yet figured out how they all fit together, and why there is such wide variation in ASD symptoms. Now an international team of scientists report significant progress in understanding how the combined effects of rare mutations and common genetic variation determine whether a child will develop ASD.

Researchers identify the exertion level where aerosol particle emission increases exponentially, offering an explanation as to why exercise intensity may be linked to the transmission of infections.

The dopaminergic system appears to play an important but overlooked role in LSD’s effects on consciousness, according to new research published in the journal Psychopharmacology. The findings provide new insight into the neurophysiological mechanisms responsible for the unique effects of psychedelic drugs.

Finally this week, a new study has identified potential targets to develop a therapy that could prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

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.