Weekly Neuroscience Update

A still-shot of a wave of brain activity measured by electrical signals in the outside (left view) and inside (right view) surface of the brain. The colour scale shows the peak of the wave as hot colours and the trough as dark colours. (Credit: © D.A.)

Our understanding of brain activity has traditionally been linked to brain areas – when we speak, the speech area of the brain is active. New research by an international team of psychologists shows that this view may be overly rigid. The entire cortex, not just the area responsible for a certain function, is activated when a given task is initiated. Furthermore, activity occurs in a pattern: waves of activity roll from one side of the brain to the other.

A new study has shown that a drug widely used to treat Parkinson’s Disease can help to reverse age-related impairments in decision-making in some older people.

Researchers have discovered that the extra chromosome inherited in Down syndrome impairs learning and memory because it leads to low levels of SNX27 protein in the brain.

A new study published in Nature reveals some of the dynamics of neural activity when people articulate syllables commonly used in English.

A new study suggests that migraines are related to brain abnormalities present at birth and others that develop over time. The research is published online in the journal Radiology.

A research team studying alcohol addiction has new research that might shed light on why some drinkers are more susceptible to addiction than others.

Weekly Round Up

The neuroscience of dreaming

In this week’s round-up of the latest discoveries in the field of neuroscience – the neuroscience of dreaming and eureka moments, the teenage brain and new research into Parkinson’s and Alzheimers.

Scientists have long puzzled over the many hours we spend in light, dreamless slumber. But a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests we’re busy recharging our brain’s learning capacity during this traditionally undervalued phase of sleep, which can take up half the night.

Perhaps while sleeping we are gaining new insight into our problems. A new brain-imaging study looks at the neural activity associated with insight. The research, published by Cell Press in the March 10 issue of the journal Neuron, reveals specific brain activity that occurs during an “A-ha!” moment that may help encode the new information in long-term memory.

I’ve written previously about the brain of a teenager being hot-wired to take risk, but now new research shows that just when teens are faced with intensifying peer pressure to misbehave, regions of the brain are actually blossoming in a way that heighten the ability to resist risky behavior.

Brain scans are being used to spot the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in a UK-based pilot that could revolutionise its diagnosis. Doctors are using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to look at whether particular parts of the brain have started to shrink, which is a key physiological sign of Alzheimer’s. The MRI project is an example of “translational research” – that which will have a direct benefit for patients. And in more translational research news, it emerges that in studies of more than 135,000 men and women regular users of ibuprofen were 40% less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.