Weekly Neuroscience Update

Antwwaun Molden, Keith Toston, Julian Standord, Antwon Blake, John ChickIn a small study of former NFL players, about one quarter were found to have “mild cognitive impairment,” or problems with thinking and memory, a rate slightly higher than expected in the general population.

Research at the University of Edinburgh tracked electrical signals in the part of the brain linked to spatial awareness. The study could help us understand how, if we know a room, we can go into it with our eyes shut and find our way around. This is closely related to the way we map out how to get from one place to another.

Scientists have long wondered how nerve cell activity in the brain’s hippocampus, the epicenter for learning and memory, is controlled — too much synaptic communication between neurons can trigger a seizure, and too little impairs information processing, promoting neurodegeneration. Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center say they now have an answer. In the January 10 issue of Neuron, they report that synapses that link two different groups of nerve cells in the hippocampus serve as a kind of “volume control,” keeping neuronal activity throughout that region at a steady, optimal level.

Seniors who have spoken two languages since childhood are faster than single-language speakers at switching from one task to another, according to a study published in the January 9 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. Compared to their monolingual peers, lifelong bilinguals also show different patterns of brain activity when making the switch, the study found.

Repression of a single protein in ordinary fibroblasts is sufficient to directly convert the cells – abundantly found in connective tissues – into functional neurons. The findings, which could have far-reaching implications for the development of new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases like Huntington’s, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, will be published online in advance of the January 17 issue of the journal Cell.

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.