Weekly Neuroscience Update

Antwwaun Molden, Keith Toston, Julian Standord, Antwon Blake, John ChickIn a small study of former NFL players, about one quarter were found to have “mild cognitive impairment,” or problems with thinking and memory, a rate slightly higher than expected in the general population.

Research at the University of Edinburgh tracked electrical signals in the part of the brain linked to spatial awareness. The study could help us understand how, if we know a room, we can go into it with our eyes shut and find our way around. This is closely related to the way we map out how to get from one place to another.

Scientists have long wondered how nerve cell activity in the brain’s hippocampus, the epicenter for learning and memory, is controlled — too much synaptic communication between neurons can trigger a seizure, and too little impairs information processing, promoting neurodegeneration. Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center say they now have an answer. In the January 10 issue of Neuron, they report that synapses that link two different groups of nerve cells in the hippocampus serve as a kind of “volume control,” keeping neuronal activity throughout that region at a steady, optimal level.

Seniors who have spoken two languages since childhood are faster than single-language speakers at switching from one task to another, according to a study published in the January 9 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. Compared to their monolingual peers, lifelong bilinguals also show different patterns of brain activity when making the switch, the study found.

Repression of a single protein in ordinary fibroblasts is sufficient to directly convert the cells – abundantly found in connective tissues – into functional neurons. The findings, which could have far-reaching implications for the development of new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases like Huntington’s, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, will be published online in advance of the January 17 issue of the journal Cell.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Researchers have found that neurons in a specific region of the frontal cortex, called the anterior cingulate cortex, become active during decisions involving competitive effort.

In a major breakthrough, an international team of scientists has proven that addiction to morphine and heroin can be blocked, while at the same time increasing pain relief.

Researchers have shown that activity in a certain region of the brain changes as children learn to reason about what other people might be thinking.

The human brain contains billions of neurons that are arranged in complex circuits, which enable people to function with regard to controlling movements, perceiving the world and making decisions. In order to understand how the brain works and what malfunctions occur in neurological disorders it is crucial to decipher these brain circuits. A new study, which is featured in the August 9 edition of Nature reveals that MIT neuroscientists have now come closer towards this goal, by discovering that two major classes of brain cells repress neural activity in specific mathematical ways by which one type subtracting from overall activation, whilst the other type divides it.

That fact that heavy drinking impacts the brain of developing youths is a well-known fact. However, now researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and VA San Diego Healthcare System have discovered that certain patterns of brain activity could also help to predict which youths are at risk of becoming problem drinkers. The study is featured online in the August edition of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. The study involved functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of 12 to 16 year old teenagers’ brains before they started drinking and who had an fMRI three years later. About half of the teenagers started drinking heavily over the 3-year period but the researchers noted that the fMRI scans taken before these group of teenagers started drinking, they already showed less fMRI response in areas of the brain that were associated earlier with heavy drinking.

Major depression or chronic stress can cause the loss of brain volume, a condition that contributes to both emotional and cognitive impairment. Now a team of researchers led by Yale scientists has discovered one reason why this occurs — a single genetic switch that triggers loss of brain connections in humans and depression in animal models.

Neuroscientists from The Scripps Institute have identified a specialized population of stem cells that have an impressive vocational calling: higher brain functioning. It’s an important finding that holds promise for the treatments of serious cognitive disorders — including those that impact on conscious function. And it also reveals how humans and other mammals are able to have such big brains.

Neuroscientists have discovered that the universal saying of “living in the moment” may be impossible. A study published in the journal Neuron reveals that neuroscientists have identified an area in the brain, which is responsible for using past decisions and outcomes to guide future behavior. The study is the first of its kind to analyze signals linked to metacognition, known as a person’s ability to monitor and control cognition, which researchers describe as “thinking about thinking.”