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.

Weekly Neuroscience Update


Activity in the brain’s somatosensory cortex, which receives pain signals, increased 126 percent following a sleepless night vs. a full night of sleep. 

Researchers report sleep deprivation intensifies and prolongs pain.

A new study reports a causal link between dopamine, musical pleasure and motivation. Phamacologically manipulating dopamine levels, researchers found increasing dopamine increased the hedonic experience and motivational response to listening to a piece of music.

Scientists have developed a protein sensor which allows for the observation of nicotine’s movement in cells.

Patients with psychosis have accelerated aging of two brain networks important for general cognition–the frontoparietal network (FPN) and cingulo-opercular network (CON)–according to a new study in Biological Psychiatry.

A new international study has identified 269 new genes linked to depression.

Researchers have identified the 3D structure of a brain receptor that causes nausea as a result of chemotherapy treatments for cancer. The same receptor also plays a critical role in pain perception, migraines and chronic itching.

There is growing evidence that at least in some patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD), the disease may begin in the gut. 

New science uncovers how an unlikely culprit, Porphyromonas gingivalis (Pg) – the bacterium commonly associated with chronic gum disease – appears to drive Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pathology.

Researchers have identified a genetic link between impulsivity and a predisposition to engage in risky behaviors.

Differences in cognitive development between hearing and deaf children start in infancy, according to new research by The Ohio State University College of Medicine published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

A new study reveals blood cell DNA remains steady, even after transplant. The findings shed new light on human aging.

Finally this week, researchers have shed new light on why some people may not respond to antidepressants for major depressive disorder. The study reports neurons in the brains of some with MDD may become hyperactive in the presence of SSRIs.

Weekly Neuroscience Update


Image credited to Ruth Litovsky (via NeuroscienceNews.com)

A new technique synchronizes cochlear signals in those with implants, stimulating the brain in a way that is similar to hearing people. This can allow those with cochlear implants to hear in stereo.

According to a new study, melatonin works by suppressing neurons that keep you awake and alert. The findings could pave the way for new treatments for insomnia.

When viewing OCD related images, those with the disorder had increased distress and higher levels of activity in emotion-related brain regions than their siblings who did not suffer from OCD, researchers report.

Magnetic resonance imaging can be used to detect the development of psychosis in the brains of high-risk patients at an early stage, according to a new study. 

Researchers have identified the mechanisms behind how noise-induced hearing loss occurs and have shown a simple injection to the middle ear may help to preserve hearing following exposure to loud blast noises.

A new article looks at theories of consciousness and novel research aimed at providing a better understanding of the roots of consciousness.

Sleep is known to be important for creative thinking, but exactly how it helps and what role each sleep stage–REM and non-REM–plays remains unclear. A team of researchers has now developed a hypothesis to explain how the interleaving of REM and non-REM sleep might facilitate creative problem-solving in different but complementary ways.

A study of Parkinson’s patients reveals neural activity alternates between the right and left sides of the brain as we walk.

A new study has linked the APOE4 gene to mental health issues some people face following TBI. Researchers report people with the APOE4 gene had significantly higher scores for depression, PTSD and anxiety following TBI than those without the genetic variant.

Finally this week, a group of researchers has uncovered a new way of telling how well people are learning English: tracking their eyes.

A new study reports people who have a family history of alcohol use disorder release more dopamine in the ventral striatum as a response to the expectation of receiving an alcoholic drink than those without a family history of alcoholism

A new study reveals children who are either overweight or obese during the first two years of life may have problems with memory and learning at the age of 5. Researchers say IQ scored may be lower for higher weight children.

A new study reveals older adults with greater symptoms of depression have a smaller brain volume and a 55% greater chance of vascular lesions in the brain than those who do not have depression.

Researchers report the critical period of language learning may be longer than previously believed. A new study reveals children remain skilled at learning new languages until age 18.

Research has shown that a developing child’s brain structure and function can be adversely affected when the child is raised in an environment lacking adequate education, nutrition and access to health care.

Scientists have uncovered dozens of genes that increase the risk of depression — a major finding that underscores the complexity of the disease and reveals why antidepressant therapies work well for some people but are utterly ineffective for others.

A new study reports Alzheimer’s disease does not appear to affect the salience network. Researchers found, when listening to music, the salience network along with other networks, show higher functional connectivity in Alzheimer’s patients.

Neuroscientists at the University of California-Berkeley are developing a technique that could give us the ability to fool our brain into thinking that we’d experienced something that never happened by manipulating electrical activity in the brain.



How does addiction change the brain?

How does addiction change the brain? According to Dr. Gabor Mate, it’s a difficult struggle for hard core drug addicts to kick their habit because their brains are impaired. In a new book, he looks at the common roots of addictive behaviours and what can be done about them. It’s called “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction”.

What can we learn from Gerry Ryan’s death?

Gerry Ryan

I was saddened this week to read of the coroner’s verdict on the death of the radio DJ and TV personality Gerry Ryan (53). I have vivid memories of listening to Gerry late into the night in the mid 1980’s as I worked away in the Pharmacology laboratory in University College Galway, Ireland – on my experiments for my PhD degree on possible mechanisms of action of antidepressant drugs.

It was the middle of a devastating recession with thousands of young people including myself preparing to emigrate and very unsure of what fate awaited us. I vividly recall a riveting moment when alone in the lab one evening I was literally stuck to the floor as the then popular Terence Trent Darby’s song ‘Sign you name across my heart’ came on air and in the background was Gerry’s weary yet empathetic voice saying…’I wish you well my friends as you sign your name on your passports, on your visas, on you dole cards.’  It must be over 25 years ago but that memory has always remained with me. The power of memory! But that’s for another blog post.

Cocaine and Alcohol – a potentially lethal mix

Over the past two decades I have given talks in schools and colleges on how addictive drugs including cocaine affect the brain and it still amazes me how little the general public understand  how these potentially lethal drugs work.

The post mortem showed the Gerry had died from an abnormal heart rhythm which was likely to have been triggered by cocaine. Gerry also had “cocaethylene” in his system, which is produced when cocaine and alcohol are mixed.

Both cocaine and alcohol have very different modes of action on the brain. Cocaine is a stimulant which elevates mood, increases heart rate and puts your brain into a vigilant attentive state. Alcohol is what’s called a narcotic- a nervous system depressant – which puts you to sleep. What both drugs have in common however is that both are highly addictive.   Not only that but some studies show that when alcohol is taken before (the cocaine), it causes a greater buzz and that an alcohol and cocaine combination is 25pc more potent. To make matter worse at high enough doses both alcohol and cocaine are anesthetics – drugs that switch off important nervous functions – which does not help either.

More harmful drugs found in the cocktail

Other drugs also found in Gerry’s body were Levamisole, a veterinary medicine until recently used to treat parasitic worm infections in humans and commonly used as a cutting agent in cocaine where it adds bulk and weight to powdered cocaine (whereas other adulterants will produce smaller “rocks” of cocaine) and makes the drug appear more pure.

Also found was a small quantity was codeine – a powerful pain killer from the opiate family of morphine-like drugs –  and sold over-the-counter as Nurofen Plus or Solpadine.  Gerry probably took this because he was in some discomfort.

It is clear from reading newspaper reports that Gerry Ryan’s friends and loved ones are deeply shocked by the revelations of the inquest, insisting they had no idea about Ryan’s cocaine use. It is particularly sad that our memories of this popular broadcaster may be tarnished by the revelation. Many of his media friends have urged people not to let this be the case, and to remember Gerry for his talent and not the sordid nature of his death.

Today FM broadcaster Ian Dempsey has told the Herald newspaper that he would “It’s a pity that something like this has to overshadow what he achieved during his life. I don’t think it’s of any benefit to anyone.”

While I agree to an extent with Dempsey, I do think that Gerry’s death might be of some benefit if it opens up a debate on how we as a society deal with stress. We have heard that Gerry was under a great deal of stress in the days and weeks leading up to his death, and we are led to surmise that alcohol and drug taking was his way of coping. In this he is not alone. As the world economy continues on its downward slide, and unemployment and financial worries beset us, are we going to turn more and more to these quick fixes to handle our dis-stress?

Probably the most important lesson to be taken from Gerry’s death is the realization that the stresses of life and how we manage them IS the difference between life and death. I look forward to developing this theme in greater detail including drug-free tips on how the avoid worry and stress in future posts, but in the meantime, my deepest sympathy go to Gerry’s loved ones at this difficult time.