Weekly Neuroscience Update


Music and mindful music listening may help people who have suffered strokes recover their impaired cognitive abilities more effectively, new research suggests.

The loss of memory and cognitive function known to afflict survivors of septic shock is the result of a sugar that is released into the bloodstream and enters the brain during the life-threatening condition. This finding, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, explains the premature mental aging that follows septic shock and may shed light on memory loss in other diseases.

Researchers have identified a new autoimmune disease that causes muscle pain and weakness.

Scientists used brain signals recorded from epilepsy patients to program a computer to mimic natural speech–an advancement that could one day have a profound effect on the ability of certain patients to communicate.

Scientists have created a “neural decoder” that translates brain activity into speech.

Autism diagnosis becomes stable starting at 14 months of age, researchers report. The accurate diagnosis of ASD, four months earlier than previously believed, leads to more opportunities for early interventions.

A new two-tier diagnostic blood test which evaluates both amyloid beta and tau, can help detect Alzheimer’s disease in presymptomatic patients.

Researchers are officially defining a new brain disorder that mimics Alzheimer’s disease. The disorder will be known as LATE, which stands for limbic-predominant age-related TDP-43 encephalopathy.

Finally this week, a new deep learning algorithm can reliably determine what visual stimuli neurons in the visual cortex respond best to.


Weekly Neuroscience Update


Image: Pixabay

How quickly do we experience the benefits of exercise? A new study of healthy older adults shows that just one session of exercise increased activation in the brain circuits associated with memory – including the hippocampus – which shrinks with age and is the brain region attacked first in Alzheimer’s disease.

Using a unique computational framework they developed, a team of scientist cyber-sleuths has identified 104 high-risk genes for schizophrenia.

Reduced connectivity between the amygdala and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex has been identified in children on the autism spectrum who exhibit disruptive behaviors, compared to those on the spectrum who do not. Findings suggest this distinct brain network could be independent of core autism symptoms.

A specially designed computer program can help diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans by analyzing their voices.

Using CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing, researchers identified actionable pathways responsible for the growth of glioblastoma stem cells. By reverse engineering brain cancer cells, multiple potential new targets for cancer treatments have been uncovered.

Obesity is associated with alterations in brain structure, including lower grey matter volume and smaller globus pallidus volume according to new research. 

Researchers have found certain clues in the brain waves that show the reason why angry dreams occur when a person sleeps. The results of the study titled, “EEG Frontal Alpha Asymmetry and Dream Affect: Alpha Oscillations Over the Right Frontal Cortex During REM Sleep and Pre-Sleep Wakefulness Predict Anger in REM Sleep Dreams,” were published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

People with the specific genotype of the Cannabinoid receptor 1 gene may be more prone to cannabis use disorder.

A rapid memory system transition from the hippocampus to the posterior parietal cortex is stabilized as we sleep. Sleep and repeated rehearsal of memory jointly contribute to long-term memory consolidation.

A new study confirms that a simple blood test can reveal whether there is accelerating nerve cell damage in the brain. 

Finally, this week, using a combination of movie clips and neuroimaging, researchers find people have positive biases to those they feel are more like them, even if they are unable to see the person’s face.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

People aren’t very good at media multitasking, but do it anyway because it makes them feel good, a new study suggests. The findings provide clues as to why multitasking is so popular, even though many studies show it is not productive.

A team of Montreal scientists has identified a blueprint for how memories are encoded. The findings may lead to a better understanding of memory impairments, as well as therapies for such neurodegenerative disorders as Alzheimer’s.

The way we use our hands may determine how emotions are organized in our brains, according to a recent study published inPLoS ONE. 

Researchers at Harvard, Yale, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found the first evidence that meditation can alter the physical structure of our brains. Brain scans they conducted reveal that experienced meditators boasted increased thickness in parts of the brain that deal with attention and processing sensory input.

Weekly Round-Up

Transcranial magnetic stimulation can minimize forgetfulness

Memory failure is a common occurrence yet scientists have not reached a consensus as to how it happens. However, according to a new study at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is able to minimize forgetfulness by disrupting targeted brain regions as they compete between memories.

A new study which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, finds changes in brain activity after only five weeks of meditation training.

In an ongoing quest to map the brain, scientists have determined how the brain works to understand others. According to a new study, the brain generates empathy in one manner for those who differ physically and in another method for those who are similar. In a paper published online by Cerebral Cortex, researcher Dr Lisa Aziz-Zadeh, suggests empathy for someone to whom you can directly relate — (for example, because they are experiencing pain in a limb that you possess) — is mostly generated by the intuitive, sensory-motor parts of the brain. However, empathy for someone to whom you cannot directly relate relies more on the rationalizing part of the brain.

The brain holds on to false facts, even after they have been retracted according to a report in Scientific American.

Psychologists have found that thought patterns used to recall the past and imagine the future are strikingly similar. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging to show the brain at work, they have observed the same regions activated in a similar pattern whenever a person remembers an event from the past or imagines himself in a future situation. This challenges long-standing beliefs that thoughts about the future develop exclusively in the frontal lobe.

Many dementia patients being prescribed antipsychotic drugs could be better treated with simple painkillers, say researchers from Kings College, London, and Norway.

Brain damage can cause significant changes in behaviour, such as loss of cognitive skills, but also reveals much about how the nervous system deals with consciousness. New findings reported in the July 2011 issue of Cortex demonstrate how the unconscious brain continues to process information even when the conscious brain is incapacitated.

Years after a single traumatic brain injury (TBI), survivors still show changes in their brains. In a new study, researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania suggest that Alzheimer’s disease-like neurodegeneration may be initiated or accelerated following a single traumatic brain injury, even in young adults.

Your brain and the art of confusion

It’s good that the brain gets some airtime every now and then and so it was last Thursday when I was a guest on the Limerick Today morning radio with Joe Nash. The topic was confusion and what we can do about it. The discussion during the show, ranged from confusion to the role of the brain in sleep, dreams, memories, the subconscious and the practice of mindfulness. I particularly enjoyed being able to respond to callers and their questions.

How to focus on being focussed

One thing became clear to me over the course of the show – the lack of awareness of mindfulness mediation as a drug free way to increase concentration.  As a neuroscientist and teacher I have a keen interest in this area. During the show I mentioned to listeners that meditation exercises can be accessed for free on the internet. Click below for one of the best sources of free online meditations that I have found.


These exercises are a great way of sharpening your focus. They require little time and have no nasty side-effects. Try it! Your brain will thank you later.

Click here to hear a podcast of the show.

Weekly Round-Up

Does sleep help you learn? (Image: Big Stock)

In today’s weekly round-up..how memories take better hold during sleep, nature vs nurture, fake it til you make it, the nature of heroism, the pathology of Alzheimer’s, the neuroscience of fear and loathing, and more.

It appears from the latest research that the best way to hold onto a  newly learned poem, card trick or algebra equation may be to take a quick nap, for the brain is better during sleep than during wakefulness at resisting attempts to scramble or corrupt a recent memory. The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, provides new insights into the complex process by which we store and retrieve deliberately acquired information.

Athena Stalk in Your Brain and The Power of Rehearsing Your Future explains that the advice to “fake it til you make it” is backed up by some of the latest findings on the brain.

Interesting article from Jonah Lehrer in the Wall Street Journal on the perennial nature vs nurture debate. And in a similar vein,  is there a gene for heroism or is it down to social or economic factors?  Can neuroscience explain the nature of heroism?

The Neuroscience of Fear and Loathing is an interesting look at this universal emotion. 

Findings from a new study from the University of Haifa shows that people diagnosed as psychopathic have difficulty showing empathy, just like patients who have suffered frontal head injury.

Article in this week’s New York Times on a new brain scan tech­nol­ogy to detect Alzheimer’s pathol­ogy in the brain.

How Perception Reveals Brain Differences explores the ways in which brains differ from one another and the ways in which we owners perceive the world accordingly.