Weekly Neuroscience Update

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This latest research builds on the pioneering use of machine learning algorithms with brain imaging technology to “mind read.” The findings indicate that the mind’s building blocks for constructing complex thoughts are formed by the brain’s various sub-systems and are not word-based.  Image is credited to Carnegie Mellon University.

Researchers report they can use brain activation patterns to identify complex thoughts. Their findings suggest the building blocks for complex human thoughts are not word based, but formed by the brain’s sub systems. The study provides evidence that the neural dimensions of concept representation are universal across people and languages.

A new study considers how echolocation can benefit visually impaired people to navigate safely through the environment.

Neuroscientists have used a classic branch of maths in a totally new way to peer into the structure of our brains. What they’ve discovered is that the brain is full of multi-dimensional geometrical structures operating in as many as 11 dimensions.

People tend to change the pitch of their voice depending on who they are talking to, and how dominant they feel, a new study has found.

Researchers have identified a network of neurons that plays a vital role in learning vocalizations by aiding communication between motor and auditory regions of the brain.

A new study reinforces the idea that serotonin, a molecule associated with mood, directly contributes to the actions of cocaine.

A new report published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine shows evidence supporting three interventions for cognitive decline and dementia—cognitive training, blood pressure management for people with hypertension, and increased physical activity, which might slow down cognitive decline and the onset of dementia.

Therapies to change the bacteria in the gut, through diet, pro-and prebiotic supplements, faecal matter transplants or antibiotics, could treat autism.

Finally this week, researchers say a protein usually associated with the immune system could play a role in the development of neurological conditions such as epilepsy and schizophrenia.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

girl-1990347_960_720.jpgA new report reveals how the development of music is so closely tied to our own evolution.

Even a single bout of physical activity can have significant positive effects on people’s mood and cognitive functions, according to a new study in Brain Plasticity.

A new study reports on the complex brain connections employed during word retrieval.

New research provides an unprecedented level of resolution and insight into disturbances in cortical GABAergic microcircuits, which are thought to underlie cognitive impairments in schizophrenia.

A sign language study helps researchers better understand how the brain processes language.

Researchers say the goal of memory is not to transmit the most accurate information over time, but to optimize intelligent decision making by holding on to valuable information.

A new study reports microglia may play a role in a diverse array of neurodegenerative and psychiatric illnesses.

A new brain imaging study shows for the first time that brain inflammation is significantly elevated – more than 30 per cent higher – in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) than in people without the condition.

A research team has studied two structurally-similar proteins in the adult brain and have found that they play distinct roles in the development of dementia. 

Neurons found to be abnormal in psychosis play an important role in our ability to distinguish between what is real and what is perceived, researchers say.

A new study sheds light on the neural mechanism behind why some people with autism are unable to make eye contact with others.

While researchers report the risk of developing psychosis from cannabis use is relatively small, those who use the drug and already suffer from schizophrenia may notice their condition worsen.

Finally this week, researchers have discovered a mechanism of glucose sensing by muscles that contribute to the regulation of blood sugar levels in the body.

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

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A new study has identified a novel signaling system controlling neuronal plasticity.

A lack of shrinkage in the area of the brain responsible for memory may be a sign that people with thinking and memory problems may go on to develop dementia with Lewy bodies rather than Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study published in the November 2, 2016, online issue of Neurology.

A new paper offers an overview as to how neurons ‘communicate’ with one another.

Researchers have confirmed a genetic link between mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which is passed on from the mother, and some forms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

A new study looks at how the digestive tract communicates with the brain and could help find new treatment options for obesity.

Scientists can now map what happens neurologically when new information influences a person to change his or her mind, a finding that offers more insight into the mechanics of learning.

New studies may help to explain the path from stem cells to dopamine neurons.

Increased muscle strength leads to improved brain function in adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), new results from a recent trial led by the University of Sydney has revealed.

Researchers have identified a previously unknown stage of human brain development.

Finally, this  week  a new study finds that subtle, unconscious increases in arousal – indicated by a faster heartbeat and dilated pupils – shape our confidence for visual experiences.

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Current treatment methods used are transcranial direct current simulation (tDCS) – which is application of a low intensity direct (constant) current between two electrodes on the head, and transcranial alternating current simulation (tACS) – which sees a constant electrical current flow back and forth. Image credit: Monash University.

Current treatment methods used are transcranial direct current simulation (tDCS) – which is application of a low intensity direct (constant) current between two electrodes on the head, and transcranial alternating current simulation (tACS) – which sees a constant electrical current flow back and forth. Image credit: Monash University.

Researchers have discovered a new technique to enhance brain excitability that could improve physical performance in healthy individuals such as athletes and musicians.

The constant movement of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be distracting — but the fidgeting also may improve their cognitive performance, a study has found.

It is known that sleep facilitates the formation of long-term memory in humans. In a new study, researchers show that sleep does not only help form long-term memory but also ensures access to it during times of cognitive stress.

An international team of neuroscientists has proved the uniqueness of screams for the first time. In a study, they discovered that screams possess very special acoustic properties: This makes them a specific type of vocal expression which is only used in stressful and dangerous situations.

A new study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex suggests people who speak two languages have more gray matter in the executive control region of the brain.

Structural brain abnormalities in patients with schizophrenia, providing insight into how the condition may develop and respond to treatment, have been identified in an internationally collaborative study

Memories that have been “lost” as a result of amnesia can be recalled by activating brain cells with light.

High blood levels of a growth factor known to enable new blood vessel development and brain cell protection correlate with a smaller size of brain areas key to complex thought, emotion and behavior in patients with schizophrenia, researchers report in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Scientists have discovered a link between autism and genetic changes in some segments of DNA that are responsible for switching on genes in the brain.

Finally this week, new research has found that types of empathy can be predicted by looking at physical differences in the brain. This raises the fascinating possibility that some kinds of empathy might be able to be increased by training or that it might be possible for people to lose their empathy over time.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Overly connected: Many pairs of brain regions — including those involved in sensory processing, emotion and motivation — are more tightly synchronized in children with autism (right) than in controls (left).

Overly connected: Many pairs of brain regions — including those involved in sensory processing, emotion and motivation — are more tightly synchronized in children with autism (right) than in controls (left).

Three studies published over the past two months have found significant evidence that children and adolescents with autism have brains that are overly connected compared with the brains of controls. The findings complicate the theory that autism is fundamentally characterized by weakly connected brain regions. Meanwhile new findings suggest the oxytocin receptor, a gene known to influence mother-infant bonding and pair bonding in monogamous species, also plays a special role in the ability to remember faces. This research has important implications for disorders in which social information processing is disrupted, including autism spectrum disorder. In addition, the finding may lead to new strategies for improving social cognition in several psychiatric disorders.

Researchers are gaining a better understanding of the neurochemical basis of addiction with a new technology called optogenetics.

We know that getting even a measly extra hour of sleep a night can have major benefits for us–like more memories, less anxiety, and happier genes. But scientists have tested another hypothesis for why we need to spend so much time horizontal: Sleep cleans our brains.

Scientists have pinpointed a specific part of the brain where Alzheimer’s begins and traced how the disease spreads.

Scientists have zapped an electrical current to people’s brains to erase distressing memories, part of an ambitious quest to better treat ailments such as mental trauma, psychiatric disorders and drug addiction.

Finally this week, many people can recall reading at least one cherished story that they say changed their life. Now researchers at Emory University have detected what may be biological traces related to this feeling: Actual changes in the brain that linger, at least for a few days, after reading a novel.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

How Would It Be to Have the Body of a Child Again? Changes in Perception and Behaviors Demonstrated When Embodying a Child Avatar

A research, recently published on the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that a correlate of a body-ownership illusion is that the virtual type of body carries with it a set of temporary changes in perception and behaviours that are appropriate to that type of body.

A new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, examined whether or not higher glucose levels without diabetes was a risk factor for dementia.  Diabetes is already a known risk factor for dementia, but this study aimed to determine if the risk factor for diabetes is a risk factor for dementia.  Studying 2,067 participants without dementia, 232 of which already had diabetes, the researchers collected follow-up data after approximately seven years.  They found a significantly higher risk of dementia in individuals with higher than average blood glucose even if they did not have diabetes. Meanwhile, a study by researchers at Umeå University in Sweden suggests nine different factors that can increase the risk of developing dementia before age 65. The results have been published by the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Meditating before lectures can lead to better grades according to a new experimental study by George Mason University professor Robert Youmans and University of Illinois doctoral student Jared Ramsburg.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have uncovered a protein switch that can either increase or decrease memory-building activity in brain cells, depending on the signals it detects. Its dual role means the protein is key to understanding the complex network of signals that shapes our brain’s circuitry, the researchers say.

Different parts of the brain are affected in women with autism than in men with autism, according to a new study.

Ending a 30-year search by scientists, researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital have identified two proteins in the inner ear that are critical for hearing, which, when damaged by genetic mutations, cause a form of delayed, progressive hearing loss.

Researchers have found human brains ‘divide and conquer’ when people learn to navigate around new environments. The research by UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) could provide hope for people with spatial memory impairments.

Researchers have discovered how genetic mutations linked to Parkinson’s disease might play a key role in the death of brain cells, potentially paving the way for the development of more effective drug treatments.

The largest genome-wide study of its kind has determined how much five major mental illnesses are traceable to the same common inherited genetic variations. Researchers funded in part by the National Institutes of Health found that the overlap was highest between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder; moderate for bipolar disorder and depression and for ADHD and depression; and low between schizophrenia and autism. Overall, common genetic variation accounted for 17-28 percent of risk for the illnesses.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

FASD impacts brain development throughout childhood and adolescence not just at birth

Highlighted areas are some of the white matter tracts the research group studied. Credit: U of A

Medical researchers at the University of Alberta recently published findings showing that brain development is delayed throughout childhood and adolescence for people born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

Whenever we have to acquire new knowledge under stress, the brain deploys unconscious rather than conscious learning processes. Neuroscientists at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum have discovered that this switch from conscious to unconscious learning systems is triggered by the intact function of mineralocorticoid receptors.

Researchers have reverse-engineered the outlines of a disrupted prenatal gene network in schizophrenia, by tracing spontaneous mutations to where and when they likely cause damage in the brain. Some people with the brain disorder may suffer from impaired birth of new neurons, or neurogenesis, in the front of their brain during prenatal development, suggests the study.

Autism is marked by several core features — impairments in social functioning, difficulty communicating, and a restriction of interests. Though researchers have attempted to pinpoint factors that might account for all three of these characteristics, the underlying causes are still unclear. Now, a new study suggests that two key attentional abilities — moving attention fluidly and orienting to social information — can be checked off the list, as neither seems to account for the diversity of symptoms we find in people with autism.

Anemia, or low levels of red blood cells, may increase the risk of dementia, according to a study published in the July 31, 2013, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology

Physicists and neuroscientists from The University of Nottingham and University of Birmingham have unlocked one of the mysteries of the human brain, thanks to new research using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG). The work will enable neuroscientists to map a kind of brain function that up to now could not be studied, allowing a more accurate exploration of how both healthy and diseased brains work.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Brain scan

The researchers monitored brain activity while playing volunteers new music

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.

Meanwhile, an imaging study by Stanford University School of Medicine scientists reveals that the brains of different people listening to the same piece of music actually respond in the same way –  which may in part explain why music plays such a big role in our social existence.

Researchers have identified an important therapeutic target for alleviating the symptoms of Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and other related neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.

In a study published in the online version of Neurobiology of Disease, the team both confirmed the importance of this new target as well as a series of compounds that can be used to attenuate the dysregulation of one of the important cellular processes that lead to and ultimately to .

Neuroscientists have developed a method of analyzing brain activity to detect autism in children. Their findings appear in the online journal PLOS ONE.

Slow oscillations in brain activity, which occur during so-called slow-wave sleep, are critical for retaining memories. Researchers reporting online in the Cell Press journal Neuron have found that playing sounds synchronized to the rhythm of the slow brain oscillations of people who are sleeping enhances these oscillations and boosts their memory. This demonstrates an easy and noninvasive way to influence human brain activity to improve sleep and enhance memory.

Is the search for the cause of autism a hall of mirrors?

The ‘broken mirror’ theory is a popular theory in autism research but it seems that all is not as it appears as  a high-profile paper in Neuron reports that people with autism do not have trouble understanding others’ actions or intentions or even imitating those actions1.

Monkey see, monkey do.

Mirror neurons were discovered by neuroscientists in the 90’s while recording the activity of nerve cells or neurons in the brains of monkeys where it was noticed that certain neurons remain silent when the monkeys observe other monkeys performing the same action2 – hence the name mirror neuron.

Scientists have extended this finding in the human brain to show that nerve activity in mirror neurons also remain silent when observing another person performing an action and/or expressing an emotion3 and this silence is not observed in people with autism – hence the ‘broken mirror’ theory of autism.

Getting it “write”

However in a 2007 study 25 children with autism were compared with non-autistic ‘controls’ on several goal-directed imitation (mirror) tasks shown to activate regions of the brain believed to contain mirror neurons4. In one experiment, the children sat at a table and were asked to copy an adult as she touched a pattern of dots on the tabletop. The study showed that normal healthy children make typical errors on this task – for instance copying the adult’s goal but using the wrong hand. The children with autism made exactly the same error, meaning that they selectively imitate the goal of the action and both groups show the same pattern of brain activity in brain regions believed to contain mirror neurons. These findings suggest that there is nothing wrong with basic mirror systems in people with autism.

Hall of mirrors

Part of the problem may be that the ‘broken mirror’ theory relies on several unsupported assumptions: that the mirror system is responsible for understanding goals and imitation, that goal understanding and imitation are abnormal in autism, and that these deficits cause the social difficulties seen in autism.

It’s all about connections

One possible explanation is that the mirror neuron system itself could be normal in autism, but its projections, or the brain regions it is projecting to, could be abnormal instead.  Also, the mixed findings could be due to the broad spread of the autism spectrum disorders.

References:

  1. Dinstein, I.et al. Neuron 13, 461-469 (2010) PubMed
  2. Rizolatti G. et al. Brain Res. Cogn. Brain Res. 3, 131-141 (1996) PubMed
  3. CochinS. et al. Electroencephalogr. Clin. Neurophysiol. 107, 287-295 (1998) PubMed
  4. HamiltonA. F. et al. Neuropsychologia 45, 1859-1868 (2007) PubMed