Weekly Neuroscience Update

Nerve cells communicate with each other via intricate projections. In brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s these extensions atrophy, thereby causing connectivity problems. Credit DZNE/Detlef Friedrichs.

Nerve cells communicate with each other via intricate projections. In brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s these extensions atrophy, thereby causing connectivity problems. Credit DZNE/Detlef Friedrichs.

A new study shows the interdependency between the structure and function of neurons.

Neuroscientists have discovered an unexpected benefit of getting older – a more nuanced understanding of social signals, such as the age of others.

Children with autism show different patterns of brain activity during everyday gestures and movements than controls do, suggest unpublished results presented at the 2014 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting.

Researchers have gained fresh insights into how ‘local’ body clocks control waking and sleeping.

People with bipolar disorder who are being treated with the drug lithium are at risk of acute kidney damage and need careful monitoring, according to new research.

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the major cause of blindness in the western world, affecting around 50 million people. Now scientists at The University of Manchester have identified an important new factor behind its causes, which they hope could lead to new treatments.

A team of researchers has identified an enzyme key to the survival and spread of glioblastoma cancer cells that is not present in healthy brain cells, making the enzyme a promising therapeutic target.

It is claimed one in five students have taken the ‘smart’ drug Modafinil to boost their ability to study and improve their chances of exam success. But new research into the effects of Modafinil has shown that healthy students could find their performance impaired by the drug.

Researchers have developed new insight into a rare but deadly brain infection, called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML). This disease – which is caused by the JC virus – is most frequently found in people with suppressed immune systems and, until now, scientists have had no effective way to study it or test new treatments.

New research offers insight into short-term effects of maternal caregiving on a developing brain.

A team of researchers  has now been able to demonstrate in a study that the bonding hormone oxytocin inhibits the fear center in the brain and allows fear stimuli to subside more easily. This basic research could also usher in a new era in the treatment of anxiety disorders.

Blocking a key receptor in brain cells that is used by oxygen free radicals could play a major role in neutralizing the biological consequences of Alzheimer’s disease, according to new research.

Finally this week, brain scientists have long believed that older people have less of the neural flexibility (plasticity) required to learn new things. A new study shows that older people learned a visual task just as well as younger ones, but the seniors who showed a strong degree of learning exhibited plasticity in a different part of the brain than younger learners did.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

EvC dwarfism results from genetic mutations that disrupt the signaling pathway known as sonic hedgehog (Shh). Statistical analyses confirmed the significant negative association between EvC and bipolar disorder. This further suggested that the Shh pathway plays a role in bipolar disorder. This image is for illustrative purposes only and shows the 3D structure of the Sonic Hedgehog protein. Credit Peter Znamenskiy/ Hall et al.

EvC dwarfism results from genetic mutations that disrupt the signaling pathway known as sonic hedgehog (Shh). Statistical analyses confirmed the significant negative association between EvC and bipolar disorder. This further suggested that the Shh pathway plays a role in bipolar disorder. This image is for illustrative purposes only and shows the 3D structure of the Sonic Hedgehog protein. Credit Peter Znamenskiy/ Hall et al.

Researchers have identified what is likely a key genetic pathway underlying bipolar disorder, a breakthrough that could lead to better drugs for treating bipolar affective disorder, as well as depression and other related mood disorders.

Hubs are locations in the brain where different networks come together to help us think and complete mental tasks. Now, a new study offers a fresh view of how injury affects the brain. It finds damage to brain hubs disrupts our capacity to think and adapt to everyday challenges more severely than damage to locations distant from hubs.

Neuroscientists have found that a gene mutation that arose more than half a million years ago may be key to humans’ unique ability to produce and understand speech.

A paper published this month in Biological Psychiatry shows that children who spent their early years in these institutions have thinner brain tissue in cortical areas that correspond to impulse control and attention.

Researchers have found vital new evidence on how to target and reverse the effects caused by one of the most common genetic causes of Parkinson’s.

Neuroscientists and engineers at North Carolina’s Duke University have pioneered a method with which the effects of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) on the brain can be measured. The Duke team has made it possible to measure the response of a single neuron to an electromagnetic charge–something that has not before been possible. The work offers the potential to improve and initiate novel TMS therapy approaches.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Neuroscience research demonstrates that the brain regions underpinning moral judgment share resources with circuits controlling other capacities such as emotional saliency, mental state understanding and decision-making. Credit: Jean Decety

Neuroscience research demonstrates that the brain regions underpinning moral judgment share resources with circuits controlling other capacities such as emotional saliency, mental state understanding and decision-making. Credit: Jean Decety

People who care about justice are swayed more by reason than emotion, according to new brain scan research from the Department of Psychology and Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience. Researchers have discovered a gene that is likely to play a role in the risk of psychosis in bipolar disorders.

A new way to artificially control muscles using light, with the potential to restore function to muscles paralysed by conditions such as motor neuron disease and spinal cord injury, has been developed by scientists at UCL and King’s College London.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and the Allen Institute for Brain Science have published a study that gives clear and direct new evidence that autism begins during pregnancy.

A new study is the first documented study that shows cognitive behavioral therapy in a group setting is capable of changing the brain structure in patients with chronic pain.

By examining the sense of touch in stroke patients, a University of Delaware cognitive psychologist has found evidence that the brains of these individuals may be highly plastic even years after being damaged.

A new chemical messenger that is critical in protecting the brain against Parkinson’s disease has been identified by scientists.

Scents and smells can form the basis of some of the most significant memories humans form in their lives, a new study suggests

In the first study of its kind, two researchers have used popular music to help severely brain-injured patients recall personal memories.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Scientists at CSHL have developed a new mathematical model that makes predictions about where different types are neurons are located throughout the brain. Here are “heat maps” of the brain, made using the mathematical model to predict the distribution of different neurons. Each row represents one neuronal type, and different sections of the brain are shown in each column. Color indicates the likelihood of a particular neuronal type appearing in that area of the brain (white, most likely; black, least). Credit Mitra et al.

A new mathematical model uses gene expression data to predict where neurons are located throughout the brain.

Researchers have studied the acquisition and development of language in babies on the basis of the temporary coordination of gestures and speech. The results are the first in showing how and when they acquire the pattern of coordination between the two elements which allows them to communicate very early on.

The problems people with autism have with memory formation, higher-level thinking and social interactions may be partially attributable to the activity of receptors inside brain cells, researchers have learned.

A new study documents the brain activity underlying our strong tendency to infer a structure of context and rules when learning new tasks (even when a structure isn’t valid). The findings, which revealed individual differences, shows how we try to apply task knowledge to similar situations and could inform future research on learning disabilities.

Researchers have discovered impaired neuronal activity in the parts of the brain associated with anticipatory functioning among occasional 18- to 24-year-old users of stimulant drugs, such as cocaine, amphetamines and prescription drugs such as Adderall.

Why do some teenagers start smoking or experimenting with drugs — while others don’t? In the largest imaging study of the human brain ever conducted — involving 1,896 14-year-olds — scientists have discovered a number of previously unknown networks that go a long way toward an answer.

New research shows that, contrary to what was previously assumed, suppressing unwanted memories reduces their influence on behaviour, and sheds light on how this process happens in the brain.

For our brain, animate and inanimate objects belong to different categories and any information about them is stored and processed by different networks. A study shows that there is also another category that is functionally distinct from the others, namely, the category of “social” groups.

A new technique provides a method to noninvasively measure human neural networks in order to characterize how they form.

Education significantly improves mental functioning in seniors even four decades after finishing school, shows a new study. The study shows that people who attended school for longer periods performed better in terms of cognitive functioning than those who did not.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

For the study, researchers recruited twenty skilled pianists from Lyon, France. The group was asked to learn simple melodies by either hearing them several times or performing them several times on a piano. Pianists then heard all of the melodies they had learned, some of which contained wrong notes, while their brain electric signals were measured using electroencephalography (EEG). Credit: Caroline Palmer/Brian Mathias

For the study, researchers recruited twenty skilled pianists from Lyon, France. The group was asked to learn simple melodies by either hearing them several times or performing them several times on a piano. Pianists then heard all of the melodies they had learned, some of which contained wrong notes, while their brain electric signals were measured using electroencephalography (EEG). Credit: Caroline Palmer/Brian Mathias

Research from McGill University reveals that the brain’s motor network helps people remember and recognize music that they have performed in the past better than music they have only heard. 

Veterans who have been exposed to nearby explosions, but who lack clear symptoms of traumatic brain injury (TBI) may still have damage to the brain’s white matter similar to veterans with TBI, according to new research at Duke Medicine and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

University of Adelaide researchers say new insights into how the human brain responds to chronic pain could eventually lead to improved treatments for patients. And also at the University of Adelaide, studies show that a gene linked to intellectual disability is critical to the earliest stages of the development of human brains. Known as USP9X, the gene has been investigated by Adelaide researchers for more than a decade, but in recent years scientists have begun to understand its particular importance to brain development.

In order to function properly, the human brain requires the ability not only to store but also to forget. Through memory loss, unnecessary information is deleted and the nervous system retains its plasticity. A disruption of this process can lead to serious mental disorders. Scientists have now discovered a molecular mechanism that actively regulates the process of forgetting. The journal Cell has published their results.

Brain imaging using radioactive dye can detect early evidence of Alzheimer’s disease that may predict future cognitive decline.

Scientists have identified a new group of compounds that may protect brain cells from inflammation linked to seizures and neurodegenerative diseases.

Your brain’s ability to instantly link what you see with what you do is down to a dedicated information ‘highway’, suggests new research.

There has been a great deal of research on changes among different brain states during sleep, but  new findings, reported in the March 13 issue of Cell, provide a compelling example of a change in state in the awake brain.

Finally, this week, using a new method to determine whether individuals met the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of bipolar disorder, researchers from UCLA tried a new approach by combining results from brain imaging, cognitive tests, and an array of temperament and behavioral measures. In an attempt to better understand the genes that cause the disorder, a collaborative research team identified about 50 brain and behavioral measures that are both under strong genetic control and associated with bipolar disorder, creating the potential to pinpoint the specific genes that contribute to the illness.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Temporo-parietal jonction (TPJ) © Perrine Ruby / Inserm

Temporo-parietal jonction (TPJ) © Perrine Ruby / Inserm

Some people recall a dream every morning, whereas others rarely recall one. A research team has studied the brain activity of these two types of dreamers in order to understand the differences between them. In a study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, the researchers show that the temporo-parietal junction, an information-processing hub in the brain, is more active in high dream recallers. Increased activity in this brain region might facilitate attention orienting toward external stimuli and promote intrasleep wakefulness, thereby facilitating the encoding of dreams in memory.

Many psychiatric disorders are accompanied by memory deficits. Basel scientists have now identified a network of genes that controls fundamental properties of neurons and is important for human brain activity, memory and the development of schizophrenia. 

Researchers have taken a major step toward identifying the specific genes that contribute to bipolar disorder.

A recent study conducted by Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute of Aging found that aging adults with hearing loss are at higher risk for accelerated brain-tissue loss.

Brain cell regeneration has been discovered in a new location in human brains. The finding raises hopes that these cells could be used to help people recover after a stroke, or to treat other brain diseases.

Finally this week, researchers are hoping that the world’s largest simulated brain — known as Spaun — will be used to test new drugs that lead to breakthrough treatments for neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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A bird listening to birdsong may experience some of the same emotions as a human listening to music, suggests a new study on white-throated sparrows, published in Frontiers of Evolutionary Neuroscience.

Scientists at University College Cork (UCC) have come up with an innovative strategy to deliver a therapy into the brain to treat the neurogenerative disease, Huntington’s disease (HD). The strategy, which involves using modified sugars to carry gene therapies into the brain, is being hailed as an exciting development which could be applied to many brain disorders, especially those with a genetic basis.

Researchers have used brain imaging technology to show that young people with a known genetic risk of bipolar but no clinical signs of the condition have clear and quantifiable differences in brain activity when compared to controls.

Scientists have identified a previously unknown group of nerve cells in the brain. The nerve cells regulate cardiovascular functions such as heart rhythm and blood pressure. It is hoped that the discovery, which is published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, will be significant in the long term in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases in humans.

Scientists say they have found a way to distinguish between different types of dementia without the need for invasive tests, like a lumbar puncture.

Scientists at the University of Western Ontario have discovered that perhaps IQ is not the best measure of cognitive performance. Instead, they found that verbal language, short-term memory, and logical reasoning were the most important predictors of cognitive performance.

photo credit: tcd123usa via photopin cc

Weekly Neuroscience Update

this way, that wayWellcome Trust researchers have discovered how the brain assesses confidence in its decisions. The findings explain why some people have better insight into their choices than others.

Meanwhile, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Granada Group of Neuropsychology and Clinical Psychoneuroimmunology has demonstrated that cortisol levels in saliva are associated with a person’s ability to make good decisions in stressful situations.

Your brain has at least four different senses of location – and perhaps as many as 10. And each is different, according to new research from the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience.

A month of daily transcranial magnetic stimulation targeting the supplemental motor area (SMA) results in lasting improvements in symptoms of Tourette syndrome, show study findings.

Researchers have used brain imaging technology to show that young people with a known genetic risk of bipolar but no clinical signs of the condition have clear and quantifiable differences in brain activity when compared to controls.

Researchers have found the first proof that a chemical in the brain called glutamate is linked to suicidal behavior, offering new hope for efforts to prevent people from taking their own lives.

Neurobiologists at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Vienna investigated how the brain is able to group external stimuli into stable categories. They found the answer in the discrete dynamics of neuronal circuits. The journal Neuron publishes the results in its current issue.

Photo Credit: photo credit: Lori Greig via photopin cc

Weekly Round Up

A part of the human brain that’s involved in emotion gets particularly excited at the sight of animals, a new study has shown. The brain structure in question is the amygdala: that almond-shaped, sub-cortical bundle of nuclei that used to be considered the brain’s fear centre, but which is now known to be involved in many aspects of emotional learning.

Studies have shown that ­meditating regularly can help relieve chronic pain, but the neural mechanisms ­underlying the relief were unclear. Now, ­researchers from MIT, Harvard, and Massachusetts General ­Hospital have found a possible explanation.

Men and women differ in the way they anticipate an unpleasant emotional experience, which influences the effectiveness with which that experience is committed to memory according to new research.

New research has contradicted a 40-year-old theory of how the brain controls impulsive behavior

Head trauma may increase the risk of developing schizophrenia, a new study says. The results show people who have suffered from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) are 1.6 times more likely to develop schizophrenia compared with those who have not suffered such an injury.

Researchers from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and Beaumont Hospital have conducted a study which has found striking brain similarities in bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

The brains of older people are not slower but rather wiser than young brains, which allows older adults to achieve an equivalent level of performance, according to research undertaken at the University Geriatrics Institute of Montreal by Dr. Oury Monchi and Dr. Ruben Martins of the University of Montreal.

A new study testing alcohol’s effects on brain activity finds that alcohol dulls the brain “signal” that warns people when they are making a mistake, ultimately reducing self control.

Researchers in the Netherlands have been able to shed more light on how combat experiences change the brains of soldiers.

And finally, new research from MIT suggests that there are parts of our brain dedicated to language and only language, a finding that marks a major advance in the search for brain regions specialized for sophisticated mental functions.  And this week,new research makes the case that language is not a key part of thinking about numbers, but the key part, overriding other influences like cultural ones.