Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Neuroscientists at the University of Bristol are a step closer to understanding how the connections in our brain which control our episodic memory work in sync to make some memories stronger than others. The findings, published in Nature Neuroscience, reveal a previously unsuspected division of memory function in the pathways between two areas of the brain, and suggest that certain subnetworks within the brain work separately, to enhance the distinctiveness of memories.

A new study pinpoints the brain area responsible for forming direct links between environmental stimuli and enhanced focus.

Every few seconds, our eyelids automatically shutter and our eyeballs roll back in their sockets. So why doesn’t blinking plunge us into intermittent darkness and light? New research led by the University of California, Berkeley, shows that the brain works extra hard to stabilize our vision despite our fluttering eyes.

Our personality traits are linked to differences in the thickness and volume of various parts of our brains, an international study has suggested.

Researchers have found significant differences in the brains of teens with bipolar disorder that attempt to take their lives over those with the disorder who have never attempted suicide.

Women with lower estrogen levels may be more susceptible to developing PTSD according to new research.

A new study raises the question of whether a genetic mutation associated with neurodegeneration in one environment could act in a positive way in a different setting.

Researchers report early indicators of depression and anxiety may be evident in the brain from birth.

A cutting edge, non-invasive brain stimulation technique could improve cognitive control for people with conditions such as schizophrenia and autism.

A new computerized ‘mirror game’ has been shown to give more accurate diagnosis of schizophrenia than clinical interviews.

A new study reports on how a single instance of extreme stress can lead to long term neurological changes and trauma.

Social difficulties in people with autism are exacerbated by how other people perceive them at first meeting, researchers say.

Finally this week, researchers have revealed regions of the brain implicated in delusional misidentification syndromes.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

This image from the study shows changes in degree of connectivity in the feedback group. Increases are shown in red/yellow and decreases in blue/purple. Decreases in connectivity are seen in limbic areas, and increases are seen in prefrontal regions. (Credit: D Scheinost et al./Yale University)

People provided with a real-time readout of activity in specific regions of their brains can learn to control that activity and lessen their anxiety, say Yale researchers.

A new study provides neurobiological evidence for dysfunction in the neural circuitry underlying emotion regulation in people with insomnia, which may have implications for the risk relationship between insomnia and depression.

Different brain areas are activated when we choose for ourselves to suppress an emotion, compared to situations where we are instructed to inhibit an emotion, according to a new study from the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Ghent University.

Migraines and depression can each cause a great deal of suffering, but new research indicates the combination of the two may be linked to something else entirely—a smaller brain.

The epigenetic modifications, which alter the way genes function without changing the underlying DNA sequence, can apparently be detected in the blood of pregnant women during any trimester, potentially providing a simple way to foretell depression in the weeks after giving birth, and an opportunity to intervene before symptoms become debilitating.

A three-year multinational study has tracked and detailed the progression of Huntington’s disease (HD), predicting clinical decline in people carrying the HD gene more than 10 years before the expected onset of symptoms.

Researchers have pinpointed a catalytic trigger for the onset of Alzheimer’s disease – when the fundamental structure of a protein molecule changes to cause a chain reaction that leads to the death of neurons in the brain.

Individuals who learn two languages at an early age seem to switch back and forth between separate “sound systems” for each language, according to new research conducted at the University of Arizona.

Chronic trauma can inflict lasting damage to brain regions associated with fear and anxiety. Previous imaging studies of people with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, have shown that these brain regions can over-or under-react in response to stressful tasks, such as recalling a traumatic event or reacting to a photo of a threatening face. Now, researchers at NYU School of Medicine have explored for the first time what happens in the brains of combat veterans with PTSD in the absence of external triggers.

And finally this week…

Listening to new music is rewarding for the brain, a study suggests. Using MRI scans, a Canadian team of scientists found that areas in the reward centre of the brain became active when people heard a song for the first time. The more the listener enjoyed what they were hearing, the stronger the connections were in the region of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. The study is published in the journal Science

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Conceptual scheme of controlled release of ODN from a hydrogel composed of a CyD-containing molecular network by mechanical compression. (Credit: Image courtesy of National Institute for Materials Science)

A research group has succeeded in developing a gel material which is capable of releasing drugs in response to pressure applied by the patient.

New findings about how the brain functions to suppress pain have been published in the leading journal in the field Pain, by National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway) researchers. For the first time, it has been shown that suppression of pain during times of fear involves complex interplay between marijuana-like chemicals and other neurotransmitters in a brain region called the amygdala.

Researchers report that they have found a biological mechanism that appears to play a vital role in learning to read. This finding provides significant clues into the workings behind dyslexia — a collection of impairments unrelated to intelligence, hearing or vision that makes learning to read a struggle.

A new study suggests neural ‘synchrony’ may be key to understanding how the human brain perceives.

Sleep plays an important role in the brain’s ability to consolidate learning when two new potentially competing tasks are learned in the same day, research at the University of Chicago demonstrates.

New research for the first time explains exactly how two brain regions interact to promote emotionally motivated behaviors associated with anxiety and reward. The findings could lead to new mental health therapies for disorders such as addiction, anxiety, and depression.

Researchers have designed a decoded functional MRI neurofeedback method that induces a pre-recorded activation pattern in targeted early visual brain areas that could also produce the pattern through regular learning.

A new study conducted by monitoring the brain waves of sleeping adolescents has found that remarkable changes occur in the brain as it prunes away neuronal connections and makes the major transition from childhood to adulthood.

New research suggests that depression, even in children, can increase the risk of heart problems later in life. Teens who were depressed as children are far more likely than their peers to be obese, smoke cigarettes and lead sedentary lives, even if they no longer suffer from depression.

Alcohol consumption affects the brain in multiple ways, ranging from acute changes in behavior to permanent molecular and functional alterations. The general consensus is that in the brain, alcohol targets mainly neurons. However, recent research suggests that other cells of the brain known as astrocytic glial cells or astrocytes are necessary for the rewarding effects of alcohol and the development of alcohol tolerance.

New research published in The Journal of Neuroscience suggests that modifying signals sent by astrocytes, our star-shaped brain cells, may help to limit the spread of damage after an ischemic brain stroke.

The prefrontal cortex is a region of the brain that acts like a filter, keeping any irrelevant thoughts, memories and perceptions from interfering with the task-at-hand. In a new study, researchers have shown that inhibiting this filter can enhance unfiltered, creative thinking.

A new study suggests that depression results from a disturbance in the ability of brain cells to communicate with each other. The study indicates a major shift in our understanding of how depression is caused and how it should be treated.

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

UCL Medical staff discussing an image of a human brain

Researchers at University College London have made a breakthrough in the way that drugs could be delivered to the brain, tackling the difficult problem of constructing drugs which are able to pass through the blood-brain barrier – a mechanism which prevents many chemicals in the bloodstream from passing into the brain, including synthetic compounds administered as medication as well as harmful environmental toxins.

For older adults looking to sharpen their mental abilities, it might be time to log on to Facebook. Preliminary research findings from the University of Arizona suggest that men and women older than 65 who learn to use Facebook could see a boost in cognitive function.

A single concussion may cause lasting structural damage to the brain, according to a new study published online in the journal Radiology.

In an effort to better evaluate and prevent concussions and head traumas, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have developed a computer model to identify what types of jarring movements to the body can cause injury to the brain

A team of sleep researchers has confirmed the mechanism that enables the brain to consolidate memory and found that a commonly prescribed sleep aid enhances the process. Those discoveries could lead to new sleep therapies that will improve memory for aging adults and those with dementia, Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia.

How do neurons store information about past events? In the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, a previously unknown mechanism of memory trace formation has been discovered. It appears that at least some events are remembered thanks to geometry.

It is possible to tell who a person is thinking about by analyzing images of his or her brain. Our mental models of people produce unique patterns of brain activation, which can be detected using advanced imaging techniques according to a study by Cornell University neuroscientist Nathan Spreng and his colleagues.

Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) researchers have found the first evidence that selective activation of the dentate gyrus, a portion of the hippocampus, can reduce anxiety without affecting learning.

Weekly Round Up: Brain Research

Scientists now have a better understanding of the way that stress impacts the brain. New research, published by Cell Press in the January 26 issue of the journal Neuron, reveals pioneering evidence for a new mechanism of stress adaptation and may eventually lead to a better understanding of why prolonged and repeated exposure to stress can lead to anxiety disorders and depression.

Men may be at higher risk of experiencing mild cognitive impairment (MCI), or the stage of mild memory loss that occurs between normal aging and dementia, than women, according to a study published in the January 25, 2012, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Scientists have estimated for the first time the extent to which genes determine changes in intelligence across the human life course.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have created a new generation of fast-acting fluorescent dyes that optically highlight electrical activity in neuronal membranes. The work is published in this week’s online Early Edition of theProceedings of the National Academy of Science.

A new study led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, provides even more reason for people to read a book or do a puzzle, and to make such activities a lifetime habit. Brain scans revealed that people with no symptoms of Alzheimer’s who engaged in cognitively stimulating activities throughout their lives had fewer deposits of beta-amyloid, a destructive protein that is the hallmark of the disease.

How social and emotional learning can affect the brain

Neuroscientist Richard Davidson‘s research is focused on cortical and subcortical substrates of emotion and affective disorders, including depression and anxiety.

Using quantitative electrophysiology, positron emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging to make inferences about patterns of regional brain function, his lab studies normal adults and young children, and those with, or at risk for, affective and anxiety disorders.

A major focus of his current work is on interactions between prefrontal cortex and the amygdala in the regulation of emotion in both normal subjects and patients with affective and anxiety disorders.

In this video Professor Davidson presents his research on how social and emotional learning can affect the brain.

Chinks in the brain circuitry reveal our worry spots

Some people are more prone to anxiety than others

Open any newspaper, switch on any talk show on the radio this weekend, and you will be spoilt for choice with anxiety-inducing stories.

Living in this time of global recession, rising mortgage rates, political instability, it almost appears as if the media encourages us to be anxious on a daily basis. 

Easy as it is to respond with anxiety to these stories, it is in fact the least productive response to have in life. It is like a mental pain we inflict on ourselves, clouding our judgment and reasoning, zapping us of the energy we need to move forward with our lives and make sound decisions. Anxious thoughts activate stress hormones that trigger the brain’s  fight or flight response. But this arousal is temporary, and when it abates, is followed by exhaustion, apathy and even depression.

Not everyone is affected to the same degree by this tendency to react to life’s events with anxiety. We all know people who fret at the slightest thing, while others have the ability to remain calm and composed in the face of crisis. At its most chronic this tendency can lead to panic-attacks, social phobias, obsessive-compulsive behavior and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Now scientists at the University of California, Berkeley have discovered a neural explanation for why some individuals are indeed more anxiety-prone than others. Their findings, published in Neuron, reveal that chinks in our brain circuitry could be the answer, and may pave the way for more targeted treatment of chronic fear and anxiety disorders.

In the brain imaging study, the researchers discovered two distinct neural pathways that play a role in whether we develop and overcome fears. The first involves an overactive amygdala, which is home to the brain’s primal fight-or-flight reflex and plays a role in developing specific phobias.

The second involves activity in the ventral prefrontal cortex, a neural region that helps us to overcome our fears and worries. Some participants were able to mobilize their ventral prefrontal cortex to reduce their fear responses even while negative events were still occurring, the study found.

“This finding is important because it suggests some people may be able to use this ventral frontal part of the brain to regulate their fear responses – even in situations where stressful or dangerous events are ongoing”, said UC Berkeley psychologist Sonia Bishop, lead author of the paper.

“If we can train those individuals who are not naturally good at this to be able to do this, we may be able to help chronically anxious individuals as well as those who live in situations where they are exposed to dangerous or stressful situations over a long time frame,” Bishop added.

Bishop and her team used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to examine the brains of 23 healthy adults. As their brains were scanned, participants viewed various scenarios in which a virtual figure was seen in a computerized room. In one room, the figure would place his hands over his ears before a loud scream was sounded. But in another room, the gesture did not predict when the scream would occur. This placed volunteers in a sustained state of anticipation.

Participants who showed overactivity in the amygdala developed much stronger fear responses to gestures that predicted screams. A second entirely separate risk factor turned out to be failure to activate the ventral prefrontal cortex. Researchers found that participants who were able to activate this region were much more capable of decreasing their fear responses, even before the screams stopped.

The discovery that there is not one, but two routes in the brain circuitry that lead to heightened fear or anxiety is a key finding, the researchers said, and it offers hope for new targeted treatment approaches.

“Some individuals with anxiety disorders are helped more by cognitive therapies, while others are helped more by drug treatments,” Bishop said. “If we know which of these neural vulnerabilities a patient has, we may be able to predict what treatment is most likely to be of help.”

Source: University of California, Berkeley