Weekly Neuroscience Update

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A research team at Northwestern University are studying the connection between memory and sleep, and the possibilities of boosting memory storage while you snooze.

For the first time, scientists have used a new combination of neural imaging methods to discover how the human brain adapts to injury. The research, published in Cerebral Cortex, shows that when one brain area loses functionality, a “back-up” team of secondary brain areas immediately activates, replacing not only the unavailable area but also its confederates.

New research suggests that testing a portion of a person’s saliva gland may be a way to diagnose Parkinson’s disease. The study was released today and will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 65th Annual Meeting in San Diego, March 16 to 23, 2013.

In a promising finding for epileptic patients suffering from persistent seizures known as status epilepticus, researchers have reported that new medication could help halt these devastating seizures.

Tübingen neuroscientists have shown how decision-making processes are influenced by neurons.

EPFL scientists find evidence that psychological wounds inflicted when young leave lasting biological traces—and a predisposition toward violence later in life

The production of new neurons, known as neurogenesis, was found to be induced in the adult normal cortex by the antidepressant fluoxetine, as reported in a study published online last week in Neuropsychopharmacology. This finding highlights the potential neuroprotective response induced by this antidepressant drug. It also lends further support to the thesis that induction of adult neurogenesis in cortex is a relevant prevention/treatment option for neurodegenerative diseases and psychiatric disorders.

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Weekly Neuroscience Update

medium_6835040374Two recent pieces of work raise the prospect of being able to predict and even regulate a person’s risk-taking behavior, by first observing activity of the anterior cingulate cortex and then dialing it up or down.

A new study shows that for millions of individuals around the world who suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), anger is more than an emotion; it’s an agent that exacerbates their illness.

Brain changes persist for months in children who have sustained a mild traumatic brain injury, or concussion, U.S. researchers say.

Chinese researchers have devised a new technique for reprogramming cells from human urine into immature brain cells that can form multiple types of functioning neurons and glial cells. The technique, published in the journal Nature Methods, could prove useful for studying the cellular mechanisms of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and for testing the effects of new drugs that are being developed to treat them.

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.

Scientists have combined and translated two kinds of brain wave recordings into music, transforming one recording (EEG) to create the pitch and duration of a note, and the other (fMRI) to control the intensity of the music.

A compassion-based meditation program can significantly improve a person’s ability to read the facial expressions of others, finds a study published by Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. This boost in empathic accuracy was detected through both behavioral testing of the study participants and through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of their brain activity.

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, at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

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Weekly Neuroscience Research Update

Several specific regions of our brains are activated in a two-part process when we are exposed to deceptive advertising, according to new research conducted by a North Carolina State University professor. The work opens the door to further research that could help us understand how brain injury and aging may affect our susceptibility to fraud or misleading marketing.

We make our eye movements earlier or later in order to coordinate with movements of our arms, New York University neuroscientists have found. Their study, which appears in the journal Neuron, points to a mechanism in the brain that allows for this coordination and may have implications for rehabilitation and prosthetics.

The brain has a remarkable ability to learn new cognitive tasks while maintaining previously acquired knowledge about various functions necessary for everyday life. But exactly how new information is incorporated into brain systems that control cognitive functions has remained a mystery. A study by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and the McGovern Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows how new information is encoded in neurons of the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain involved in planning, decision making, working memory and learning.

A team of academic researchers has identified the intracellular mechanisms regulated by vitamin D3 that may help the body clear the brain of amyloid beta, the main component of plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Opening the door to the development of thought-controlled prosthetic devices to help people with spinal cord injuries, amputations and other impairments, neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Champalimaud Center for the Unknown in Portugal have demonstrated that the brain is more flexible and trainable than previously thought.

Emotion-sensing computer software that models and responds to students’ cognitive and emotional states – including frustration and boredom – has been developed by University of Notre Dame Assistant Professor of Psychology Sidney D’Mello and colleagues from the University of Memphis and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Weekly Round Up

Welcome to the last weekly round-up of 2011. I have enjoyed putting this together each week and look forward to updating you with lots more new and exciting research in the field of neuroscience in the coming year.

New research has shown, for the first time, that the cortex, which is the largest zone of the brain and which is generally associated with high cognitive functions, is also a key zone for emotional learning.

When you experience a new event, your brain encodes a memory of it by altering the connections between neurons. This requires turning on many genes in those neurons. Now, MIT neuroscientists have identified what may be a master gene that controls this complex process.

A new technique for color-coding nerves involved in touch gives neuroscientists a much-needed tool for studying that mysterious sense.

When accidents that involve traumatic brain injuries occur, a speedy diagnosis followed by the proper treatment can mean the difference between life and death. A research team, led by Jason D. Riley in the Section on Analytical and Functional Biophotonics at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, has created a handheld device capable of quickly detecting brain injuries such as hematomas, which occur when blood vessels become damaged and blood seeps out into surrounding tissues where it can cause significant and dangerous swelling.

Shrinkage in certain parts of the brain may herald Alzheimer’s disease long before symptoms arise, according to new research.

At UCLA’s Laboratory of Integrative Neuroimaging Technology, researchers use functional MRI brain scans to observe brain signal changes that take place during mental activity. They then employ computerized machine learning (ML) methods to study these patterns and identify the cognitive state — or sometimes the thought process — of human subjects. The technique is called “brain reading” or “brain decoding.”

Compared to our other senses, scientists don’t know much about how our skin is wired for the sensation of touch. Now, research reported in the December 23rd issue of the journal Cell, a Cell Press publication, provides the first picture of how specialized neurons feel light touches.

Both children and the elderly have slower response times when they have to make quick decisions in some settings. But recent research suggests that much of that slower response is a conscious choice to emphasize accuracy over speed. In fact, healthy older people can be trained to respond faster in some decision-making tasks without hurting their accuracy – meaning their cognitive skills in this area aren’t so different from younger adults.

Scientists at the University of Cambridge have made a significant step in the development of a novel therapy that could one day help to slow down, or even halt, the damage caused by Parkinson’s disease, one of the most common neurodegenerative disorders.

Weekly Round Up

Research shows that our brains understand music not only as emotional diversion, but also as a form of motion and activity.

Research shows that our brains understand music not only as emotional diversion, but also as a form of motion and activity. The same areas of the brain that activate when we swing a golf club or sign our name also engage when we hear expressive moments in music. Brain regions associated with empathy are activated, too, even for listeners who are not musicians.

And still on the theme of music and the brain, a recent study of seventy healthy adults ages sixty to eighty-three with various levels of music education starting around the age of ten showed impressive differences in brain functioning far later in life than any other research has previously shown.

A new study has suggested that sustained training in mindfulness meditation may impact distinct domains of human decision-making, enabling them to make decisions rationally.

Older bilingual adults compensate for age-related declines in brainpower by developing new strategies to process language, according to a recent study published in the journal Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition.

Emerging research suggest antidepressant medications may aid creation and survival of new brain cells after a brain injury.

New study examines brain processes behind facial recognition 

Finally, here is an interesting post from Chris Mooney on the science of why we don’t believe science.

Dyslexia rules KO

Image Source: Corbis

In my previous neuroeducation post, I briefly outlined the latest scientific research which shows that learning actually changes the shape of the brain, allowing specific areas in the brain to grow or change and how most importantly this brain growth can be accelerated to improve learning and memory using certain approaches to teaching.

Neuroeducation also encompasses the study of common conditions such as brain injury, dyslexia, hyperactivity attention deficit disorder, learning disability, malnutrition, stuttering and indeed depression and anxiety disorder.

Today let’s take a look at one of these conditions in more detail.  

Dyslexia rules KO 

Research has shown that children with dyslexia suffer from two specific problems: trouble analyzing and processing sound (phonology) and difficulties with rapid naming of objects. 

Early intervention particularly with phonological therapies – before the child gets into trouble in school – appears to prevent dyslexia. The old idea was that dyslexia was somehow a hole in brain – a mental deficit – is not the case. These children appear to be just on the low end of an ability to learn to read instead of having some problem in their brains in much the same way as those children who find difficulty learning a musical instrument.

The problem for dyslexic children is that unlike learning a musical instrument, learning to read is regarded by society as an essential skill – thus putting these kids on the back foot.  The good news is that early detection and treatment for dyslexia is available and better and more effective treatments are being developed as we speak.