Weekly Neuroscience Update

An area (red-yellow) in the brain’s temporal pole specializes in familiar face recognition. Credit: Sofia Landi

New research reveals a class of neurons in the brain’s temporal pole region that links face perception to long-term memory. It’s not quite the apocryphal grandmother neuron — rather than a single cell, it’s a population of cells that collectively remembers grandma’s face. The findings, published in Science, are the first to explain how our brains inculcate the faces of those we hold dear.

Researchers have discovered a previously unknown repair process in the brain that they hope could be harnessed and enhanced to treat seizure-related brain injuries.

A new study demonstrates that puppets can attract and hold the attention of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), raising the potential for developing more engaging therapies that strengthen social engagement and facilitate learning.

Artificial neural networks is helping researchers uncover new clues as to why people on the autism spectrum have trouble interpreting facial expressions.

Researchers have revealed how proteins accumulate in the incorrect parts of brain cells in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and demonstrate how it may be possible to reverse the accumulation. ALS, more commonly known as motor neuron disease, is a progressive fatal disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control, with patients become increasingly paralyzed and losing the ability to speak, eat and breathe. 

Combining artificial intelligence, mathematical modeling, and brain imaging data, researchers have shed light on the neural processes that occur when people use mental abstraction.

A team of scientists has uncovered a system in the brain used in the processing of information and in the storing of memories—akin to how railroad switches control a train’s destination. The findings offer new insights into how the brain functions.

Finally this week, researchers have developed a powerful miniature brain platform to study the mechanistic causes of Alzheimer’s disease and to test dementia drugs in development.

Weekly Neuroscience Update


People who are better able to move to a beat show more consistent brain responses to speech than those with less rhythm, according to a study published in the September 18 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. The findings suggest that musical training could possibly sharpen the brain’s response to language.

Concussions are connected with substance abuse and suicidal thoughts in adolescents, according to new research presented at a conference on sports-related brain injuries.

The structure of the brain may predict whether a person will suffer chronic low back pain, according to researchers who used brain scans. The results, published in the journal Pain, support the growing idea that the brain plays a critical role in chronic pain, a concept that may lead to changes in the way doctors treat patients.

A drug commonly used for treating diabetes may reverse symptoms of late-stage Alzheimer’s disease and is now in the process of entering a major clinical trial.

Scientists have found a new link between early-onset Parkinson’s disease and a piece of DNA missing from chromosome 22. The findings help shed new light on the molecular changes that lead to Parkinson’s disease.

The pain and itching associated with shingles and herpes may be due to the virus causing a “short circuit” in the nerve cells that reach the skin, researchers have found.

In a new study looking at toddlers and preschoolers with autism, researchers have found that children with better motor skills were more adept at socializing and communicating. This study adds to growing evidence of the important link between autism and motor skill deficits. Motor skills and muscle memory are held in the cerebellum.

Scientists have discovered differences in the brain structure of ballet dancers that may help them avoid feeling dizzy when they perform pirouettes.

New research could offer solutions into slowing down the progression of motor neurone disease (MND).

Playing first person action games can enhance your perception of movement – but only when you’re walking backwards. This is one of the findings of a new paper by University of Leicester psychologists, published in the journal Perception, which examines the effect of playing video games on motion perception.

Two new studies investigate the relationship between self-control and reward processing for chronic dieters and people who would like to control their food intake.

Scientists say they have discovered the specific brain circuitry that causes overeating, according to a study published in the journal Science.

Bad experiences enhance memory formation about places, scientists at The University of Queensland have found.

Finally this week, a new study from MIT reveals a gene that is critical to the process of memory extinction. Enhancing the activity of this gene, known as Tet1, might benefit people with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by making it easier to replace fearful memories with more positive associations,

Death Of Broadcasting Legend Colm Murray

Colm Murray

Colm Murray

I am saddened to hear of the death last night of  the hugely popular RTÉ Sport broadcaster Colm Murray,  who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease three years ago.

In a moving documentary MND – The Inside Track, aired last year on RTE television, the broadcaster said that he wanted to do something “positive”, despite his personal struggle. His doctor, Trinity and Beaumont Professor Orla Hardiman, hailed him for his willingness “to be of service”, and to help find a future cure by partaking in medical trials. “Colm could easily have laid down to the disease and become a victim but he instead became a champion,” she said.

While he admitted at the time that he did not expect to be cured, Colm Murray said that it was his most “fervent wish that the coming years will see giant steps forward in the battle to find a cure”.

“It gives me something to hope for. It’s a faint glimmer of light at the end of a very dark tunnel.”

What is Motor Neurone Disease?

One in 50,000 people will develop the terminal disease, which attacks the central nervous system, and ultimately destroys all muscular function, but what exactly is this disease?

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)*,  also known as Motor Neuron Disease,  targets the nerves controlling the muscles of movement including postural muscles eventually disabling those nerves controlling chest breathing. Interestingly nerves regulating the senses, seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling are not affected. Cognition is not affected – dementia is rare.


ALS occurs in 2-5 people per 100,000 with slightly more males affected than females. The origin is still a mystery however elite sportsmen and women are disproportionally affected.

The podcast below gives an excellent in-dept explanation of ALS.


*Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis 

= lack of:   Myo = muscle; Trophic = nourishment;

Lateral = location in the spinal cord;   Sclerosis = scarring.

New drop-in centre for patients with neurological disorders

TV3 presenter Sinead Desmond, pictured at the launch of a patient drop-in centre by the Dublin Neurological Institute this week

TV3 presenter Sinead Desmond spoke this week of her near-fatal brain haemorrhage nearly three years ago. At the launch of Ireland’s first drop-in centre for people with neurological disorders, she spoke of her gratitude at emerging  unscathed with no brain damage from the experience.

“I have been blessed with a 100pc recovery,” she said. “I met people since who had similar brain haemorrhages and suffered from brain injuries. The recovery can be tough.”

The new centre is housed within the Dublin Neurological Institute at the Mater Hospital in Eccles Street. People with neurological conditions, which include epilepsy, stroke, acquired brain injury, multiple sclerosis, dementia and motor neurone disease, can call in without having to be referred by a GP. They will be able to speak to a specialist nurse, and get free medical information and support.

National Brain Awareness Week runs until Sunday.