Weekly Neuroscience Update


People have a remarkable ability to remember and recall events from the past, even when those events didn’t hold any particular importance at the time they occurred. Now, researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on November 23 have evidence that dogs have this kind of “episodic memory” too.

PET imaging of new neurons in the brain promises to advance our understanding and treatment of depression.

Research from Mayo Clinic included in the November issue of JAMA Neurology identifies a new biomarker for brain and spinal cord inflammation, allowing for faster diagnosis and treatment of patients.

The amount of GABA in person’s dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is linked the ability to keep several things in mind simultaneously. to new research.

A new study offers important insight into how Alzheimer’s disease begins within the brain. The researchers found a relationship between inflammation, a toxic protein and the onset of the disease. The study also identified a way that doctors can detect early signs of Alzheimer’s by looking at the back of patients’ eyes.

An international research team has found that when the brain “reads” or decodes a sentence in English or Portuguese, its neural activation patterns are the same.

In a cross-domain study, researchers have discovered unexpected cells in the protective membranes that enclose the brain, the so called meninges. These ‘neural progenitors’ – or stem cells that differentiate into different kinds of neurons – are produced during embryonic development. These findings show that the neural progenitors found in the meninges produce new neurons after birth – highlighting the importance of meningeal tissue as well as these cells’ potential in the development of new therapies for brain damage or neurodegeneration. A paper highlighting the results was published in the leading scientific journal Cell Stem Cell.

A new study reports that a single stressful event may cause long term consequences in the brain.

Researchers have identified previously unknown neural circuitry that plays a role in promoting satiety, the feeling of having had enough to eat. The discovery revises the current models for homeostatic control — the mechanisms by which the brain maintains the body’s status quo — of feeding behaviour. Published online today in Nature Neuroscience, the findings offer new insight into the regulation of hunger and satiety and could help researchers find solutions to the ongoing obesity epidemic.

Finally this week, learning by taking practice tests, a strategy known as retrieval practice, can protect memory against the negative effects of stress, according to new research.


Weekly Neuroscience Update


Regions with significant phoneme classification at the NoNoise condition for each group. NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to the researchers/Nature Communications.

Researchers have pinpointed the specific part of the brain that older adults rely on to differentiate speech sounds in background noise, which could revolutionise the treatment of hearing loss.

New research has identified how cells protect themselves against ‘protein clumps’ known to be the cause of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease.

Transcranial alternating current stimulation may help to improve memory when targeted to a specific kind of brain activity achieved during sleep.

Researchers in the US and Australia have made a breakthrough discovery in the international quest to discover a new and potentially effective vaccine targeting the pathological proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

A new study identifies different brain regions that become active when a strategy of categorisation is applied.

Researchers have developed a new machine learning system that analyses the entire human genome to predict which genes may cause autism spectrum disorder, raising the number of genes that could be linked to the disorder from 65 to 2,500.

Results from a study published in the online publication Nature Genetics finds 15 genomic regions that are significantly associated with a diagnosis of depression.

According to researchers, age related changes in the organization of neural networks when performing short term memory tasks may help to compensate for other aspects of brain aging.

Researchers report smoking related deficits in dopamine return to normal three months after quitting.

Genetic changes associated with Parkinson’s disease have been found in liver, fat, immune and developmental cells, a new study reports.

Brain imaging, twin studies and transcriptome data reveal genetic relationships between lobes.

Finally this week, a new study suggests regular physical activity may lead to greater hippocampal volume and could stave off dementia, especially in older people.






Weekly Neuroscience Update


Cheese contains a chemical found in addictive drugs, scientists have found.

Chronic marijuana use disrupts the brain’s natural reward processes, according to researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas.

Understanding the relation of dopamine to network activity could improve schizophrenia treatment.

Using MRI brain scans, researchers have determined there is an association between the extent of disruption to the blood-brain barrier and the severity of bleeding following a stroke.

Researchers have proposed a computational model that could help explain multisensory integration in humans.

Scientists have developed a blood test that could identify which people with depression will respond to treatment so that patients can avoid spending months taking antidepressants that do not help them.

Researchers have discovered a unique pattern of scarring in the brains of those who were exposed to blast brain injuries that differs from those exposed to other types of head injury.

Intensive physical exercise four hours after learning is the key to remembering information learnt, say Dutch researchers.

Scientists have discovered a new cause of Parkinson’s disease – mutations in a gene called TMEM230. This appears to be only the third gene definitively linked to confirmed cases of Parkinson’s disease.

Finally this week, a protein called Scribble appears to orchestrate the intracellular signaling process for forgetting, a new study reports.


Weekly Neuroscience Update



Test subjects in an Ohio State University study were shown a series of photographs of different facial expressions. Researchers pinpointed an area of the brain that is specifically attuned to picking up key muscle movements (here, labeled AU for ‘action units’) that combine to express emotion. Credit: Ohio State University.

New machine learning algorithm can identify the facial expression a person is looking at based on neural activity.

After a stroke, there is inflammation in the damaged part of the brain. Until now, the inflammation has been seen as a negative consequence that needs to be abolished as soon as possible. But, as it turns out, there are also some positive sides to the inflammation, and it can actually help the brain to self-repair.

A new study reports hungry fish sense objects differently and take more risks when hunting than well fed fish.

In a study exploring the relationship between memory for specific past experiences and recovery from strong negative emotions, research psychologists report that episodic memory may be more important in helping midlife and older adults recover from a negative event than it is for younger adults.

New research reports one brain hemisphere remains more awake than the other when sleeping somewhere new. 

Long before Alzheimer’s disease can be diagnosed clinically, increasing difficulties building cognitive maps of new surroundings may herald the eventual clinical onset of the disorder, according to new research.

New research suggests actin filaments that control the shape of neuron cells may also be the key to the molecular machinery that forms and stores long-term memories.

Scientists have elucidated for the first time how a notoriously elusive serotonin receptor functions with atom-level detail. The receptor transmits electrical signals in neurons and is involved in various disorders, meaning that the discovery opens the way for new treatments.

Researchers have mapped out a circuit of neurons that is responsible for motor impairment–such as difficulty walking–in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Brain waves that spread through the hippocampus are initiated by a method not seen before–a possible step toward understanding and treating epilepsy, according to researchers at Case Western Reserve University.

Researchers have conducted a study examining the effect ecstasy has on different parts of the brain.

Finally this week researchers have found that drawing pictures of information that needs to be remembered is a strong and reliable strategy to enhance memory.

Weekly Neuroscience Update


John Gaspar, an SFU psychology doctoral student, places 128 electrodes into a cap. The electrodes will pick up tiny changes in the wearer’s brain activity. Image is adapted from the SFU press release.

A new study has found that differences in an individual’s working memory capacity correlate with the brain’s ability to actively ignore distraction.

A research team has connected neurons using ultrashort laser pulses. With their study, which was published in Scientific Reports, the team became the first ever to find a way to bond neurons.

Physicians and biomedical engineers from Johns Hopkins report what they believe is the first successful effort to wiggle fingers individually and independently of each other using a mind-controlled artificial “arm” to control the movement.

Researchers have identified a gene which can be used to predict how susceptible a young person is to the mind-altering effects of smoking cannabis.

Young adults with hostile attitudes or those who don’t cope well with stress may be at increased risk for experiencing memory and thinking problems decades later, according to a study published in the March 2, 2016, online issue of Neurology.

Researchers have found how lactate, a waste product of glucose metabolism can protect neurons from damage following acute trauma such as stroke or spinal cord injury.

Neuroscientists have discovered a specific enzyme that plays a critical role in spinal muscular atrophy, and that suppressing this enzyme’s activity, could markedly reduce the disease’s severity and improve patients’ lifestyles.

Birds that migrate the greatest distances have more new neurons in the regions of the brain responsible for navigation and spatial orientation, suggests a new paper published in Scientific Reports.

Scientists have now described the engineering of a bright red fluorescent protein-based voltage indicator, providing pathways to understanding complex neurological disorders.

Children with autism and other similar conditions often have difficulties in several areas of communication. A new doctoral thesis in linguistics from the University of Gothenburg shows that these children can develop speech, gestures and a sense of rhythm and melody by listening to various speech sounds.

Finally this week,  new research suggests that small numbers are processed in the right side of the brain, while large numbers are processed in the left side of the brain.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Percentage of known neuron-, astrocyte- and oligodendrocyte-enriched genes in 32 modules, ordered by proportion of neuron-enriched gene membership. (credit: Michael Hawrylycz et al./Nature Neuroscience)

Percentage of known neuron-, astrocyte- and oligodendrocyte-enriched genes in 32 modules, ordered by proportion of neuron-enriched gene membership. (credit: Michael Hawrylycz et al./Nature Neuroscience)

Allen Institute researchers have identified a surprisingly small set of just 32 gene-expression patterns for all 20,000 genes across 132 functionally distinct human brain regions, and these patterns appear to be common to all individuals.

Evidence is mounting that gratitude makes a powerful impact on our bodies, including our immune and cardiovascular health. But how does gratitude work in the brain? A team at the University of Southern California has shed light on the neural nuts and bolts of gratitude in a new study, offering insights into the complexity of this social emotion and how it relates to other cognitive processes.

Subjective memory complaints (SMCs) are associated with cognitive impairment nearly two decades later among older women, a prospective study of aging has demonstrated.

Older adults that improved their fitness through a moderate intensity exercise program increased the thickness of their brain’s cortex, the outer layer of the brain that typically atrophies with Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study. These effects were found in both healthy older adults and those diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), an early stage of Alzheimer’s disease.

When it comes to the brain, “more is better” seems like an obvious assumption. But in the case of synapses, which are the connections between brain cells, too many or too few can both disrupt brain function. Research, recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience, reports  that an immune-system protein called MHCI, or major histocompatibility complex class I, moonlights in the nervous system to help regulate the number of synapses, which transmit chemical and electrical signals between neurons. MHCI could play an unexpected role in conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, type II diabetes and autism.

Researchers have developed a simple technique to measure an individual’s visual processing speed–the speed at which an individual can comprehend visual information–in order to identify whether or not they may have cognitive issues.

Sleep is usually considered an all-or-nothing state: The brain is either entirely awake or entirely asleep. However, MIT neuroscientists have discovered a brain circuit that can trigger small regions of the brain to fall asleep or become less alert, while the rest of the brain remains awake.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

The stage when a brain is actively engaged in a new experience can be described as “online” activity. On the flip side of this neurological process, “offline” activity, or neural replay, is the process by which the brain rehearses what has been learned in order to strengthen the most important memories. The image is for illustrative purposes only. Image credit: NIH.

The stage when a brain is actively engaged in a new experience can be described as “online” activity. On the flip side of this neurological process, “offline” activity, or neural replay, is the process by which the brain rehearses what has been learned in order to strengthen the most important memories. The image is for illustrative purposes only. Image credit: NIH.

The permanence of memories has long thought to be mediated solely by the production of new proteins. However, new research has shown that the electrical activity of the brain may be a more primary factor in memory solidification.

Sleeping not only protects memories from being forgotten, it also makes them easier to access, according to new research. The findings suggest  that after sleep we are more likely to recall facts which we could not remember while still awake.

The tendency of more intelligent people to live longer has been shown, for the first time, to be mainly down to their genes by new research published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Dogs have a specialized region in their brains for processing faces, a new study finds.

The first ever genetic analysis of people with extremely high intelligence has revealed small but important genetic differences between some of the brightest people in the United States and the general population.

A new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Neurology, found a strong association between insulin resistance and memory function decline, increasing the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Insulin resistance is common in people who are obese, pre-diabetic or have Type 2 diabetes.

New brain research has mapped a key trouble spot likely to contribute to intellectual disability in Down syndrome.

Fundamental differences between how the brain forms during adolescence have been discovered in children with schizophrenia and their siblings, a new study shows. The study opens up new avenues for researchers to explore when developing treatment for the illness, which can be hugely debilitating for children.

15 ways to boost your memory


We expect too much of our memory. Instead of assuming that the memory is a sort of an effortless DVD recording device, we should realise that our ability to remember is influenced by a wide range of factors from what we eat to how we manage stress.

Here’s my list of 15 ways to improve it.

1 pay attention

Memory involves a form of learning or encoding. In order to encode information properly, you must consciously direct your attention at the thing you want to learn. Think of a squirrel who wants to hide a cache of nuts for the winter and is in the process of burying them when it is interrupted by a fox and runs away. That squirrel may have difficulty remembering where the nuts were buried because its attention was disrupted. It’s important to give attention and time to the information you wish to encode.

2 manage stress

Sharpen your ability to pay attention by examining the kind of stress you experience and deciding to learn how to manage your stress levels. Everyone has a different way of managing stress, but if you manage to control your stress, your ability to pay attention to things will improve.

3 meditate

Meditation is about paying attention on purpose – usually to the breath, and without judgement. If you develop a strong capacity to pay attention, he explains, your mind will be less distracted, thus focusing more easily, learning more quickly – and remembering things better!

4 breathe deeply

Oxygen is required by every cell in the body, and the brain cells, which encode the information which allows you to learn and remember, are no different. Oxygenating the brain triggers a process called neurogenesis, which is the growth of new brain cells required to encode the information you want to remember. This raises your IQ and gives you extra learning capacity by making it easier for the brain to focus on, and encode the appropriate information. Basically, to encode information, the brain requires plenty of oxygen – the more you oxygenate your brain the faster your learn.

5 be curious

Consciously improve your attention levels by focusing on your environment and teaching yourself to be observant. Learn to be observant and curious. Take notice of the things that are going on around you. Become interested in the green-ness of the grass for instance, because we know that fixed attention is very good for the brain. Make a point of taking note of the unusual around you. Notice the changing of the seasons and how they are impacting on your environment. “Be aware of where you are and what you are doing.”

6 chew gum

When you chew gum you exercise the major muscles of the jaw and this introduces oxygen to your brain, improving its ability to perform, and thereby increasing your capacity to learn and remember. When you physically exercise the big muscles of the jaw by chewing the jaw becomes tired. When it’s tired, it experiences an increased demand for oxygen, which prompts you to inhale more. As you inhale more, your brain receives more oxygen which fuels and improves its overall performance. The very act of chewing actually improves the ability to learn and remember.

7 get knitting

Knitting and crocheting are extremely powerful ways of training yourself to focus and improve your attention. This is firstly because it requires you to focus closely on an intricate knitting pattern and secondly to replicate the pattern through paying attention to achieving good hand-eye coordination. This is both a physical and psychological activity which sharpens your focus and strengthens your ability to attend to detail and to learn.

8 read more of less

Mental exercise is very important for the brain. Read one book which is challenging rather than skimming through 15 light novels. Your brain is active all your life and there is new evidence that in the teenage years, information processing peaks, in the mid-20s your short-term memory peaks. In your 40s your memory for faces peaks, while in your 80s your intelligence and wisdom peaks.

9 Eat memory foods

A diet high in fish oil is conducive to a good memory. Eat oily fish at least once a week; an inexpensive meal like sardines on toast rather than expensive fish oil supplements. You get the benefit of the oil and you also get a food rather than just taking it in a supplement. Other anti-inflammatory-and-anti-oxidant-containing foods such as berries, vegetables and fruits should also be included. Eat plenty of lean meat, vegetables, fruit and plants and fish oils – but of all of these, fish oils are the elite when it comes to the brain.

10 eat less

Some people advocate the Okinawa Diet, which involves eating a hot meal once every two days rather than every day, believing that it lengthens life and improves the ability to learn and remember. Because we are by nature hunter-gatherers, we are not meant to be over-fed. Our ancestors were often hungry. In fact, the optimal intelligent human being is slightly under-fed, slightly under-weight, extremely aerobically fit, highly focused, in touch with the environment, and excellent at assessing a calculated risk.

11 get motivated

To learn and remember, you need to want to remember! Motivation and a love of learning are crucial to remembering. When you are motivated, you are more open to trying something new – and the brain loves stimulation. Signing up for new courses, taking on different responsibilities at work and at home, learning new skills, for example playing a musical instrument and adopting an open approach to new challenges all refresh and stimulate the brain. Be a brain that is always learning new things. It’s really a case of use it or lose it.

12 be creative

Scientists have discovered that the parts of your brain which are involved in learning and remembering are the same parts of the brain which are involved in creative thinking, so the more creative you become, the easier you will find learning and remembering. There are lots of ways to stimulate your own creativity – ask more questions about everything and start consciously thinking beyond the obvious. Learn to use and trust your imagination, visualise, try new activities, listen to new music and learn to become comfortable with silence – experts suggest quieting your mind and visiting ‘within’ to discover the nuggets of creativity within yourself. Above all, the advice is to love what you do – and if you don’t, find a passion for something that you do love – and do it.

13 avoid drugs

We know that drugs like alcohol and cannabis can cause memory loss, particularly short-term memory loss, because they damage the part of the brain which is involved in laying down the short-term memory. We are not sure exactly what the physical impact is, but we know that these substances interfere significantly with short-term memory.

14 use the alphabet

Using your Mental Alphabetical Filing Cabinet can help enormously when you find yourself unable to remember a person’s name. First, detach from your struggle to remember the name itself. Then slowly start to go through the alphabet, letter by letter – and more than likely, the name you want will jump out from the file in which your memory originally place it. Another useful memory-consolidation technique is reading through the material you want to encode just before you go to sleep. Reading the information you most want to remember just before you sleep, will help your brain consolidate and encode the information, and you will remember it better the next day.

15 say it loud

Repeating aloud something that you want to remember during the learning process is an excellent memory aid. If, for example, you have a habit of forgetting where you put your keys, talk to yourself about where you are placing them the next time you are putting them down. This encourages you to ‘engage’ more actively with your brain in encoding the memory you wish to remember. On the other hand, if you’re trying to remember a phone number, divide it into three or four-digit ‘bits’ or ‘chunks’ – this is called “chunking.”

Adapted from an article which appeared in the Irish Independent  

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Current treatment methods used are transcranial direct current simulation (tDCS) – which is application of a low intensity direct (constant) current between two electrodes on the head, and transcranial alternating current simulation (tACS) – which sees a constant electrical current flow back and forth. Image credit: Monash University.

Current treatment methods used are transcranial direct current simulation (tDCS) – which is application of a low intensity direct (constant) current between two electrodes on the head, and transcranial alternating current simulation (tACS) – which sees a constant electrical current flow back and forth. Image credit: Monash University.

Researchers have discovered a new technique to enhance brain excitability that could improve physical performance in healthy individuals such as athletes and musicians.

The constant movement of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be distracting — but the fidgeting also may improve their cognitive performance, a study has found.

It is known that sleep facilitates the formation of long-term memory in humans. In a new study, researchers show that sleep does not only help form long-term memory but also ensures access to it during times of cognitive stress.

An international team of neuroscientists has proved the uniqueness of screams for the first time. In a study, they discovered that screams possess very special acoustic properties: This makes them a specific type of vocal expression which is only used in stressful and dangerous situations.

A new study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex suggests people who speak two languages have more gray matter in the executive control region of the brain.

Structural brain abnormalities in patients with schizophrenia, providing insight into how the condition may develop and respond to treatment, have been identified in an internationally collaborative study

Memories that have been “lost” as a result of amnesia can be recalled by activating brain cells with light.

High blood levels of a growth factor known to enable new blood vessel development and brain cell protection correlate with a smaller size of brain areas key to complex thought, emotion and behavior in patients with schizophrenia, researchers report in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Scientists have discovered a link between autism and genetic changes in some segments of DNA that are responsible for switching on genes in the brain.

Finally this week, new research has found that types of empathy can be predicted by looking at physical differences in the brain. This raises the fascinating possibility that some kinds of empathy might be able to be increased by training or that it might be possible for people to lose their empathy over time.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

This image shows an overview of the Rehabilitation Gaming System. Image credit: Rehabilitation Gaming System.

This image shows an overview of the Rehabilitation Gaming System. Image credit: Rehabilitation Gaming System.

Using virtual reality to increase a patient’s confidence in using their paralyzed arm may be critical for recovery, according to research published in the open-access Journal of  NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation.

A pioneering study conducted by leading researchers at the University of Sheffield has revealed blood types play a role in the development of the nervous system and may cause a higher risk of developing cognitive decline. The findings  seem to indicate that people who have an ‘O’ blood type are more protected against the diseases in which volumetric reduction is seen in temporal and mediotemporal regions of the brain like with Alzheimer’s disease for instance.

A star-shaped brain cell called an astrocyte appears to help keep blood pressure and blood flow inside the brain on a healthy, even keel, scientists report.

Thanks to advances in brain imaging technology, we now know how specific concrete objects are coded in the brain, to the point where we can identify which object, such as a house or a banana, someone is thinking about from its brain activation signature.

A new study finds some people can be trained to learn absolute pitch.

Scientists have discovered a previously unknown link between the brain and the immune system that could help explain links between poor physical health and brain disorders including Alzheimer’s and depression.

A team of neuroscientists has determined how a pair of growth factor molecules contributes to long-term memory formation, a finding that appears in the journal Neuron.

Our understanding of how a key part of the human brain works may be wrong. That’s the conclusion of a team at Oxford University’s Centre for Human Brain Activity (OHBA), published in journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences. Until now, it was thought that working memory – the way in which we deal with and respond to immediate demands – was underpinned by stable brain patterns. The OHBA team discovered that instead, the areas of the brain responsible for working memory are changing all the time.

A new study finds people with higher levels of moral reasoning have greater gray matter volume in brain regions linked to social behaviour, decision-making and conflict processing, compared with those who have lower levels of moral reasoning.

Genes linked to creativity could increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to new research.

One of the major challenges of cocaine addiction is the high rate of relapse after periods of withdrawal and abstinence. But new research reveals that changes in our DNA during drug withdrawal may offer promising ways of developing more effective treatments for addiction.

According to a piece of research by the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country, the capacity to recall specific facts deteriorates with age, but other types of memory do not.

Finally, this week, a new study has found that the brain shrinks over the course of the day, ending up smaller in the evening – before returning to its full size the next morning.