Weekly Neuroscience Update

Researchers have presented new findings which found after one session of aerobic exercise people showed reduced cravings for alcohol, lower levels of stress, and improvements in mood.

When our eyes move during REM sleep, we’re gazing at things in the dream world our brains have created, according to a new study. The findings shed light not only into how we dream, but also into how our imaginations work.

Measuring how the eyes’ pupils change in response to light—known as the pupillary light reflex—could potentially be used to screen for autism in young children, according to a new study.

Researchers have made an important discovery about the way our brains process the sensations of sound and touch. They found that sensory systems in the brain are closely interconnected, with regions that respond to touch also involved when we listen to specific sounds connected to touching certain objects.

A study into the effect of surprise on our memory has inadvertently discovered a method that might help us to perform better in exams.

Scientists have uncovered how dopamine connects subregions of the striatum essential for habit formation, findings that may change the overall understanding of how habits are formed—and could be broken.

New research finds the brains of people playing online video games synchronize, even when there is a physical distance between the players.

By estimating people’s brain age from MRI scans using machine learning, a team of researchers has identified multiple risk factors for a prematurely aging brain. They found that worse cardiovascular health at age 36 predicted a higher brain age later in life, while men also tended to have older brains than women of the same age, as they report in The Lancet Healthy Longevity.

Young people with 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome have distinct and marked EEG differences in brain activity during sleep, which could influence psychiatric symptoms.

Tight control of blood sugar in teens with Type 1 diabetes may help reduce the disease’s damaging effects on the brain, effects which have been shown even in younger children, according to a study published in Nature Communications.

Tests of the brain’s electrical activity have revealed fentanyl’s effects over time and indicated that the drug stops people’s breathing before other noticeable changes and before they lose consciousness.

A newly developed artificial intelligence model can detect Parkinson’s disease by reading a person’s breathing patterns. The algorithm can also discern the severity of Parkinson’s disease and track progression over time.

A new study reveals how a molecule produced by astrocytes interferes with normal neuron development in a range of neurodevelopmental disorders.

People with an obsessive urge to constantly check the news are more likely to suffer from stress, anxiety, as well as physical ill health, finds a new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Health Communication.

Finally this week, the impact of breathing diesel exhaust fumes may be more severe for females than males, according to new research.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

For the first time, a team of international scientists has studied the development of the main immune cell population residing in the human brain, called microglia, on human tissue.

Scientists have uncovered a molecular pathway that distills threatening sights, sounds and smells into a single message: Be afraid. A molecule called CGRP enables neurons in two separate areas of the brain to bundle threatening sensory cues into a unified signal, tag it as negative and convey it to the amygdala, which translates the signal into fear. The research, published in Cell Reports on August 16, 2022, may lead to new therapies for fear-related disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or hypersensitivity disorders such as autism, migraines and fibromyalgia.

Researchers have identified a new type of retinal ganglion cell, the neurons in the retina that encode the visual environment and transmit information back to the brain.

Children who sleep less than 9 hours per night have significant differences in brain regions associated with memory, intelligence, and well-being compared to their peers who sleep 9 or more hours per night. Less sleep in children was also associated with increased risks of depression, anxiety, and impulsive behaviors.

A new study finds that Alzheimer’s disease disrupts at least one form of visual memory by degrading a newly identified circuit that connects the vision processing centers of each brain hemisphere.

Leisure activities, such as reading a book, doing yoga and spending time with family and friends may help lower the risk of dementia, according to a new meta-analysis published in the August 10, 2022, online issue of Neurology.

Finally this week, a novel study reports the dynamics of consciousness may be understood by a newly developed conceptual and mathematical framework.

Can neuroscience explain consciousness?

Consciousness – n. the quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself. 

Some philosophers are convinced that there are phenomena that science can never explain. One example of this is consciousness – a distinguishing feature of thinking, feeling creatures such as ourselves and other higher mammals. Much research into the nature of consciousness has been done by neuroscientists, psychologists and others. But despite all the new scientific findings, a number of recent philosophers claim that there is something intrinsically mysterious about the phenomena of consciousness that no amount of scientific investigation can eliminate.

Is consciousness scientifically inexplicable? 

What are the grounds for this view? Their basic argument is that conscious experiences are fundamentally unlike anything else in the world in that they have a ‘subjective’ aspect.  Consider for example the experience of watching a sad movie. This is an experience that will have a distinctive ‘feel’ to it and while neuroscience may one day explain the complex goings-on in the brain that produce our feeling of sadness – it cannot explain why watching a sad move feels the way it does. These philosophers argue that the scientific study of the brain can at most tell us which brain processes are correlated with which consciousness experiences and while scientific information is interesting and valuable it does not tell us why experience with a distinctive subjective feel (such as sadness) should result from the purely physical going on in the brain.  Many people believe this to be the case also.

Science – the art of the possible 

This argument is compelling but it is controversial and is not endorsed by all philosophers, let alone neuroscientists. Indeed, in response to this argument the philosopher Daniel Dennett published a book in 1991 defiantly titled Consciousness Explained. Most neuroscientists would sometimes accuse those philosophers who argue that consciousness must always elude scientific explanation of being dogmatic and having a lack of imagination and predict that in the not-too-distant future neuroscience will deliver a radically different type of brain science, with radically different explanatory techniques what will explain why our experiences feel the way they do.

Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible

Unfortunately there is a 2000-year-long tradition of philosophers trying to tell scientists what is and is not possible and later scientific development have often proved the philosophers wrong. Only time will tell whether the same fate awaits those who argue that consciousness must always elude scientific explanation.

My money is on the neuroscientists with this one!