How To “Vaccinate” Yourself Against Depression #WorldMentalHealthDay

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Today is World Mental Health Day, which is observed on 10 October every year, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health.

Depression is very common – it is estimated that at least one in five people in Ireland will develop depression during their lifetime. Depression is not to be confused with the normal ups and downs of everyday life. Everyone can feel a bit ‘down’ from time to time as a reaction to an upsetting event, but will start to feel better after a few days or weeks. It is a natural, short-lived response to stressful times in life.

However, some people are unable to escape this low mood, and find it difficult to carry on with life as usual. They may experience low/sad, irritable or indifferent mood, loss of interest and enjoyment in daily life and a general lack of energy. This may be often accompanied by some or all of the following physical symptoms, fatigue and reduced activity, disturbed sleep or excessive sleep, changes in appetite and weight, loss of sex drive, unexplained aches and pains e.g. headache, backache and changes to the menstrual cycle.

Depression affects different people in different ways – not everyone has the same symptoms. Other symptoms include poor concentration or reduced attention, difficulty in making decisions, tearfulness, restlessness, agitation or anxiety, low self-confidence and self-esteem, feelings of guilt, inability to cope with life as before, avoiding other people, bleak view of the future, morbid thoughts, ideas of self-harm.

Treatment is available and recovery is possible.

Starting in the 1960’s neuroscientists regarded depression as a kind of ‘anaemia’ in the brain – a lack of three important neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline in key emotional regions in the brain. Antidepressant drugs were then developed to bring the levels of these neurotransmitters particularly serotonin back to normal. Prozac is a good example of this type of drug and it has proved to be a safe and effective life saver for many the depressed patient.

However, recently neuroscientists have had a radical change of mind with respect to the nature of depression. This change of view is partially due to evidence from brain imaging studies in depressed patients showing dramatic changes in nerve activity in the frontal lobe of the brain.

The importance of the frontal lobe in depression

Nervous activity in the frontal lobes forms our attitudes, plans and strategies and is at least in part under our own control.    This view advocates that depression is in fact a disorder of thinking – a sort of obsessional pessimism from which the depressed patient can see no way out and this is what causes the low neurotransmitter levels.

Wisconsin Study

The WISCONSIN STUDY adds another twist by showing that the brains of depressed individuals actually exhibit the same initial levels of activity in positive/pleasure-generating brain regions. Instead they found differences in the ability to sustain those positive emotions.

Findings from my own research group and others show that three important neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline play a key role in sustaining attention and motivation the brain. Thus low neurotransmitter levels may impair the ability to ‘embed’ these new thoughts and emotions leaving the depressed patient feeling like they are back at square one. This study lends support to notion that depression is best treated by psychological/behavioral treatments or in combination of drugs, not drugs alone.

Thus while antidepressants can help treat the chemical anaemia – good mental heath in particular careful monitoring of your everyday thoughts and attitudes will ensure that negative thoughts are nipped in the bud is also vital in the treatment and even the prevention of depression.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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A new brain mapping experiment shows that whether you read or listen to a book, the same parts of the brain are stimulated to help you understand and respond to the meaning of the words

Poor oral health has been linked to cognitive decline and increased symptoms of stress.

The brains’ of first degree relatives of those with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder differ from those with no family history of the disorders. Relatives of those with bipolar disorder tend to have larger intracranial volume, while those who had a relative with schizophrenia had smaller brain volume.

Minute-to-minute fluctuations in human brain activity, linked to changing levels of dopamine, impact whether we make risky decisions, finds a new study.

Meditation and yoga practice is associated with smaller right amygdala volume, a brain region involved in emotional processing, according to research published in Brain Imaging and Behavior.

Tiny changes in the microscopic structure of the human brain may affect how patients respond to an emerging therapy for neurological problems.

The brains of people with epilepsy appear to react to music differently from the brains of those who do not have the disorder, a finding that could lead to new therapies to prevent seizures.

Major depressive disorder has been linked to at least 22 distinct diseases, including asthma, coronary heart disease, and an increased risk of E. coli infection.

Researchers have identified a specific area of the brain responsible for auditory verbal hallucinations in people with schizophrenia. The researchers were able to control the hallucinations with the help of transcranial magnetic stimulation.

A new study challenges the existing theory that testosterone levels are linked to reduced cognitive empathy.

Finally this week, new research provides insights into what happens in our brains when curiosity is piqued. The findings could help scientists find ways to enhance overall learning and memory in both healthy individuals and those with neurological conditions.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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An international team of researchers has found the Internet can produce both acute and sustained alterations in specific areas of cognition, which may reflect changes in the brain, affecting our attentional capacities, memory processes, and social interactions.

Memory performance can be enhanced by rhythmic neural stimulation, using both invasive and non-invasive techniques.

A new study has found that infants at high risk for autism were less attuned to differences in speech patterns than low-risk infants. The findings suggest that interventions to improve language skills should begin during infancy for those at high risk for autism.

A new ultrasound method restores dopaminergic pathway in the brain at Parkinson’s early stages.

Neuroimaging reveals a significantly diminished response in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex in children on the autism spectrum. The findings could be used as a biomarker for diagnosing ASD.

A correlative link has been discovered between weak upper and lower body physical performance, and an increase in depression and anxiety during midlife.

Researchers have examined new evidence about how low-grade inflammation could impact a person’s level of motivation. This may also have implications for the treatment of some cases of depression.

Finally this week, new research has suggested that virtual reality may play a crucial role in monitoring Alzheimer’s disease.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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The image is adapted from the University of Toronto news release.

An experiment led by University of Toronto psychologists has shown for the first time that grapheme-colour synesthesia  –   a condition in which individuals sense colours associated with letters and numbers – provides a clear advantage in statistical learning – an ability to discern patterns – which is a critical aspect of learning a language. The result provides insight into how we learn, and how children and adults may learn differently.

Scientists might have found an early detection method for some forms of dementia.

Neuroimaging helps researchers observe what happens in the brain as a person is rotated. The study, which gives insight into how the brain moves after the head stops moving, also provides critical information for advancing studies of TBI.

Esketamine combined with antidepressants acts rapidly to help alleviate symptoms in those with treatment-resistant depression.

Inflammation appears to reduce reward response in females. Reduced activity in the brain’s reward system is a key component of anhedonia, the loss of enjoyment in activities, a core feature of depression. The findings may explain why depression is more prevalent in women than in men.

A new study has found that a new nerve stimulation therapy to increase blood flow could help patients with the most common type of stroke up to 24 hours after onset.

The results of a new study suggest that virtual reality could make life easier for people with dementia. The authors conclude that virtual reality helped the participants recall memories and contributed to an improvement in patients’ relationships with caregivers.

Researchers have identified average levels of biological and anatomical brain changes with Alzheimer’s disease over 30 years before symptoms appear.

Magnetic stimulation of the brain improves working memory, offering a new potential avenue of therapy for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, according to new research.

Sleep in teenagers can be improved by just one week of limiting their evening exposure to light-emitting screens on phones, tablets and computers,

Finally this week, using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), scientists have captured 3D images that show how infants’ brains and skulls change shape as they move through the birth canal just before delivery.

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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How well-connected a particular brain network is, and how successfully memories are formed, may determine which patients with post-traumatic stress disorder benefit from behavioral therapy, researchers have found.

A new paper discusses the potential of deep brain stimulation in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, OCD, Tourette syndrome and other disorders.

Reduced blood capillaries in the back of the eye may be a new, noninvasive way to diagnose early cognitive impairment, the precursor to Alzheimer’s disease in which individuals become forgetful, reports a newly published study.

Animal-assisted therapy can foster social competence in patients with brain injuries and increase their emotional involvement during therapy. 

CGRP, a protein associated with migraine pain, appears to act differently between sexes. Researchers say a female-specific mechanism of downstream CGRP receptor activation is likely to contribute to the higher prevalence of migraine in women.

A new model sheds light on the evolutionary origins of empathy and other associated phenomena. 

A team of scientists has shown that when deep-brain stimulation is applied to a specific brain region, it improves patients’ cognitive control over their behavior by increasing the power of a specific low-frequency brain rhythm in their prefrontal cortex.

Researchers have increased understanding of how computing technology could be used to help people with depression remember happy memories.

A study has found that childhood trauma is linked to abnormal connectivity in the brain in adults with major depressive disorder (MDD). The paper, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), is the first data-driven study to show symptom-specific, system-level changes in brain network connectivity in MDD.

Finally this week, the findings of an EEG study on two-month-old babies reveal the impact of maternal stress on early neurodevelopment.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Much like opaque filters we apply to pictures on social media, the vibrancy of our memories dims and fades over time. The image reflects 12 levels of visual salience, or vibrancy, used to rate how memories fade. The image is credited to Psychological Science.

Low-level visual information fades in memory over time. However, negative emotion increases subjective memory vividness.

Musical training produces lasting improvements to a cognitive mechanism that helps individuals be more attentive and less likely to be distracted by irrelevant stimuli while performing demanding tasks.

Neurobiologists have studied the formation of inhibitory synapses, a complex process that occurs when the brain adapts. 

The synesthesia effect of being able to ‘hear’ silent movements may depend upon disinhibition of signaling between the visual and auditory brain regions. A new study found musicians are more likely to experience the ‘visual ear’ phenomena than those with no musical training.

Using OCT angiography to quantify capillary changes in the back of the eye can help in the detection, and monitor the progression, of Alzheimer’s disease.

Polygenetic risk scores calculated from adults can be used to identify children and adolescents who may be at greater risk of developing depression, even before clinical symptoms have emerged.

An uncommon variant of the PDE11A gene impacts both quality and duration of sleep. 

Scientists have discovered the key brain region for navigating well-known places, helping explain why brain damage seen in early stages of Alzheimer’s disease can cause such severe disorientation.

Finally this week, a team of researchers has found what they describe as a link between the “locus of control” in adolescents and their use of tobacco and alcohol.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Robotic body surrogates can help people with profound motor deficits interact with the world. Here, Henry Evans, a California man who helped Georgia Tech researchers with improvements to a web-based interface, uses the robot to shave himself.  

People with profound motor deficits reported an improved quality of life while using robotic body surrogates.

A new study reports babies’ brains are sensitive to different emotional tones they hear in voices. Researchers suggest maternal interactions may help to shape the same brain region adults use for emotional processing.

Researchers are finding new evidence that exercise — even low-intensity, casual physical activity — can boost brain health in the short- and long-term.

The brain chemical serotonin, a neurotransmitter is long known for its role in passing signals between neurons in the brain, can also regulate expression of genes within neurons in an unexpected way, according to research conducted by neuroscientists at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and published on March 13 in the journal Nature.

New patterns of brain aging across the human lifespan have been revealed by scientists analysing microstructural changes in the brain’s white matter.

According to researchers, there is an optimum amount of dopamine that should be present within the brain. This optimum amount can help improve cognitive performance on tasks, researchers report.

Oxford University scientists have discovered a brain process common to sleep and aging in research that could pave the way for new treatments for insomnia.

Finally this week, a new review, which appears in The BMJ journal, examines the benefits of non-invasive brain stimulation for treating major depression and finds that the technique is a valid alternative to existing treatments.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Image Source: RIKEN

Researchers report the hierarchy of intrinsic neural timescales appears to be disrupted in adults on the autism spectrum. 

A new study reveals teenage binge drinking can result in lasting epigenetic changes that alter the expression of BDNF-AS, a protein vital for the formation of neural connection in the amygdala.

Researchers shed light on the neural networks that appear to govern human consciousness.

Scientists report the popular bodybuilding protein supplement, L-norvaline, can have a negative impact on brain health. Researchers found that in low concentrations, the supplement causes damage to neurons which eventually leads to cell death.

A new study finds cannabis use in teens is associated with a higher risk of developing depression and anxiety as adults.

According to researchers, there is an optimum amount of dopamine that should be present within the brain. This optimum amount can help improve cognitive performance on tasks, researchers report.

A new study reveals the somatosensory cortex plays a complex role in memory and reward learning.

Scientists report EEG technology can help to predict the onset of epileptic seizures up to four minutes in advance. Additionally, acetate, an edible acid, may help to prevent seizures if they are detected with enough notice.

Teenagers suffering with depression may struggle with recalling specific memories, according to new research from the University of Reading.

A new study reveals women’s brains tend to appear three years younger than males of the same age. Researchers report this could be a reason why women tend to remain mentally sharp longer than men.

A new prosthetic hand enables amputees to regain a subtle, close to natural, sense of touch.

Finally this week, new research reports that older adults who exercise by using electric bicycles experience comparable cognitive and mental health benefits to those who use a standard, pedal-powered bike.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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This diagram shows how the effects of Gαs-coupled agonists on T cells can be influenced by sleep or disease. NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to Dimitrov et al., 2019.

A new study reports sleep can help immune cells attach to targets and help fight infection. The study reveals how sleep assists the body in fighting infections, whereas conditions like chronic stress can make the body more susceptible to illness.

Researchers have demonstrated that physical coordination is more beneficial in larger groups.

Scientists have identified a small set of molecules that can convert glial cells into new neurons. The finding could help develop new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and brain injuries.

New therapeutic molecules show promise in reversing the memory loss linked to depression and aging.

The first population-level study on the link between gut bacteria and mental health identifies specific gut bacteria linked to depression and provides evidence that a wide range of gut bacteria can produce neuroactive compounds. Jeroen Raes (VIB-KU Leuven) and his team published these results today in the scientific journal Nature Microbiology.

A new study reports unexpected changes in music activates the nucleus accumbens, providing reward and helping us to learn about the music as we listen. 

Researchers reveal the different cognitive styles of creative and analytical thinkers are a result of fundamental differences in neural activity that can be observed when people are not working on a problem.

Finally this week, a new study reports fluvoxamine, an antidepressant used to treat OCD appears to be effective in stopping sepsis.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Activity in the brain’s somatosensory cortex, which receives pain signals, increased 126 percent following a sleepless night vs. a full night of sleep. 

Researchers report sleep deprivation intensifies and prolongs pain.

A new study reports a causal link between dopamine, musical pleasure and motivation. Phamacologically manipulating dopamine levels, researchers found increasing dopamine increased the hedonic experience and motivational response to listening to a piece of music.

Scientists have developed a protein sensor which allows for the observation of nicotine’s movement in cells.

Patients with psychosis have accelerated aging of two brain networks important for general cognition–the frontoparietal network (FPN) and cingulo-opercular network (CON)–according to a new study in Biological Psychiatry.

A new international study has identified 269 new genes linked to depression.

Researchers have identified the 3D structure of a brain receptor that causes nausea as a result of chemotherapy treatments for cancer. The same receptor also plays a critical role in pain perception, migraines and chronic itching.

There is growing evidence that at least in some patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD), the disease may begin in the gut. 

New science uncovers how an unlikely culprit, Porphyromonas gingivalis (Pg) – the bacterium commonly associated with chronic gum disease – appears to drive Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pathology.

Researchers have identified a genetic link between impulsivity and a predisposition to engage in risky behaviors.

Differences in cognitive development between hearing and deaf children start in infancy, according to new research by The Ohio State University College of Medicine published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

A new study reveals blood cell DNA remains steady, even after transplant. The findings shed new light on human aging.

Finally this week, researchers have shed new light on why some people may not respond to antidepressants for major depressive disorder. The study reports neurons in the brains of some with MDD may become hyperactive in the presence of SSRIs.