Weekly Neuroscience Update

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A new generation of prosthetic limbs which will allow the wearer to reach for objects automatically, without thinking – just like a real hand – are to be trialled for the first time.

Researchers have discovered both the structure of specific brain areas and memory are linked to genetic activity that also play important roles in immune system function.

Understanding the structure of our brain is as important as understanding its size when it comes to evolution, a new report suggests.

Scientists have published ground-breaking scans of newborn babies’ brains which researchers from all over the world can download and use to study how the human brain develops.

A new study reports that contrary behaviour of blood vessels in the retrotrapezoid nucleus help keep us breathing.

Researchers have developed a non-invasive means to measure whether infants are in pain, which could prevent babies from undergoing excessive discomfort during medical treatments.

A landmark study has identified the first genetic locus for anorexia nervosa and has revealed that there may also be metabolic underpinnings to this potentially deadly illness.

Finally this week, researchers have identified how two distinct areas of the developing brain communicate and report REM sleep is key to this communication.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

vegas-nerve-parkinsons-neurosciencenews (1).jpgAccording to researchers, Parkinson’s disease may start in the gut and spread to the brain via the vagus nerve.

You probably know that walking does your body good, but it’s not just your heart and muscles that benefit. Researchers found that the foot’s impact during walking sends pressure waves through the arteries that significantly modify and can increase the supply of blood to the brain.

An international collaboration of neuroscientists has shed light on how the brain helps us to predict what is coming next in speech.

A recently published study, which combines four studies of extreme longevity, has identified new rare variants in chromosomes 4 and 7 associated with extreme survival and with reduced risks for cardiovascular and Alzheimer’s disease.

Scientists have discovered that neurons in brain regions that store memory can form networks in the absence of synaptic activity.

A new study reports estrogen fluctuations can alter brain circuit activation in women with a variant of a specific gene.

Your brain may not be the same age as your body, and an “older” brain may be linked to an increased risk of dying at a younger age, a new study finds.

Zapping the brain with just a bit of electricity at the right time may help to improve memory function in some people, according to a new study.

Gentle noise stimulation can enhance sleep quality and improve memory in older people, a new study reports.

Like air-traffic controllers scrambling to reconnect flights when a major hub goes down, the brain has a remarkable ability to rewire itself after suffering an injury. However, maintaining these new connections between brain regions can strain the brain’s resources, which can lead to serious problems later, including Alzheimer’s Disease, according to researchers.

Researchers have discovered a new cellular mechanism that may be a root cause of multiple sclerosis.

Combining brain training programs with transcranial direct current simulation can lead to cognitive improvements and better working memory, a new study reports.

Finally this week, a new video game is helping to speed up neuroscience research by allowing players to reconstruct the architecture of neurons.

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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A virtual reality world called EVA Park can improve the communication of those who have impaired speech and language following a stroke, according to research by academics at City University London. The study, which is published in PLOS ONE, is the first exploration of multi-user virtual reality in aphasia therapy and shows the potential for technology to play an important role in improving the everyday lives of people with the condition.

A new study will look at how brain connections mature and develop from childhood to adulthood.

Neurons communicate by sending chemical signals called neurotransmitters across synapses, specialized connections between two individual cells. This communication requires a delicate and intricate molecular architecture. A recent paper published in Nature has now shown that the structure of this intercellular space is more complicated than previously thought, and it probably helps boost the efficiency of the signaling.

A new long term study of young marijuana users tracks the brain’s response to reward over time. The findings indicate a lower response to reward in marijuana users.

Neuroscientists at the University of Pittsburgh have identified the neural networks that connect the cerebral cortex to the adrenal medulla, which is responsible for the body’s rapid response in stressful situations. These findings, reported in the online Early Edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), provide evidence for the neural basis of a mind-body connection.

A new study provides insight into how overconfidence can lead to poor decision making.

Scientists have identified part of our brain that helps us learn to be good to other people. The discovery could help understanding of conditions like psychopathy where people’s behaviour is extremely antisocial.

Finally this week, researchers have developed a neurodevelopmental model of a rare genetic disorder that could help shed light on the workings of the human social brain.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Sending text messages on a smartphone can change the rhythm of brain waves, according to a new study published in Epilepsy & Behavior.

An international research team has found that our perception is highly sensitised for absorbing social information. The brain is thus trained to pay a great degree of attention to everyday actions. The results are reported in the journal Consciousness and Cognition.

A new study unravels the mechanisms driving excess brain growth that affects as many as 30 percent of people with autism.

Researchers have developed a new technology that could lead to new therapeutics for traumatic brain injuries. The discovery, published in Nature Communications, provides a means of homing drugs or nanoparticles to injured areas of the brain.

Researchers have coupled machine learning with neuroimaging to detect early forms of dementia.

Neuroscientists have come up with a way to observe brain activity during natural reading. It’s the first time researchers have been able to study the brain while reading actual texts, instead of individual words. The research has potential implications for understanding dyslexia and other reading deficits.

A new study links hippocampal inflammation in multiple sclerosis with an increased risk of developing depression.

In a partnership melding neuroscience and electrical engineering, researchers have developed a new technology that will allow neuroscientists to capture images of the brain almost 10 times larger than previously possible – helping them better understand the behavior of neurons in the brain.

Researchers report acquiring new memories can interfere with old ones, making them more likely to be forgotten.

A European study has shown that the dopamine D2 receptor is linked to the long-term episodic memory, which function often reduces with age and due to dementia. This new insight can contribute to the understanding of why some but not others are affected by memory impairment. The results have been published in the journal PNAS.

Finally this week, a new study shows how new linguistic information is integrated into the same brain areas used for your native language.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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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.

Your Brain On Social Media #SMDay

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To mark the fifth global Social Media Day today, here are my thoughts on predicting the future of social media.

Internet companies are looking for ways to get inside our heads – to tinker with the very thing that makes us human – our brain.  As Facebook gets ready to take-on new challengers after its recent launch on the stock market, is it possible that the battle for future dominance on the Internet will be won or lost inside our heads?  Knowledge about human behaviour, emotion and sensory stimulation is starting to flow through to the actual strategies of the leading Internet competitors.

Neuroscience – front and centre

Neuroscience – the scientific study of the nervous system – once at the periphery of the way we thought about the Internet, is suddenly in the spotlight. Just by understanding how the human brain works – Internet companies can get more users.

It’s all in your head

The Internet takes advantage of the two most important features within the human brain – that social behaviour elicits pleasure and that vision triggers memories and emotions deep within our unconscious minds – and quite simply, the key to the future success of the Internet and future billion-dollar valuations will depend on how the Internet can get that neuroscience right.

The reward pathway

The first feature is that social activity triggers a nerve pathway deep in our subconscious – the mesolimbic dopamine pathway – also called the reward pathway, releasing a chemical called dopamine which bathes the brain’s pleasure centres – similar to other activities with intrinsic value such as food, sex and getting money. People like talking about themselves on social media because it has intrinsic value by generating a warm emotion of being part of something important. In other words, we like sharing because it is enjoyable for its own sake as a social activity. In this way sharing is deeply sensory – we humans literally ‘get high’ on social activity.

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To the left is a view of the human brain cut down the middle. The reward pathway – shown in red above – is activated by a rewarding stimulus. The major structures in the reward pathway are highlighted: the ventral tegmental area (VTA), the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex. The VTA sends information along its connections to both the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex. The neurons of the VTA contain the neurotransmitter dopamine which is released in the nucleus accumbens and in the prefrontal cortex. The pathway shown here is not the only pathway activated by rewards, other structures are involved too, but only this part of the pathway is shown for simplicity. (Adapted from the American Society for Neuroscience).

Humans – the ultimate party animals

Even 80 year olds look forward to their weekly bingo or bridge game or to just simply meet up with family/friends and having a chat.  From cooking a favourite meal to getting together with friends, it’s the smells and the stories and the smiles that make human connections so essential to psychological wellbeing. This is why we humans are the most social of the apes – no question about it – we love to party. No surprise then about the popularity of the Internet as it has taken our ability to socialise to a new level. Every comment, post, status update and tweet is a tiny jolt that triggers the pleasure centres of our brains.  On top of that – time and location are no longer impediments to social contact with like-minded friends.

Seeing is believing

The second feature is that over 70% of the human brain is dedicated to vision which means that our brains think in terms of visual images.

In fact, the visual system is the first to mature in the human brain so that by the age of five, children are able to compete on visual games with their grandparents …and win! This explains why the newer social networks like Instagram and Pinterest that use images have the potential to become even more popular for Internet users that the text-based Facebook and Twitter. Viewed from this perspective, Mark Zuckerberg’s recent billion-dollar bid for Instagram suddenly makes a lot of sense. It’s not just that Instagram is a hugely popular mobile network with millions of users; it’s that the company understands that retro filters and beautiful light effects actually trigger visual associations and associated memories deep within our unconscious minds.

The future of the Internet is a neurofuture

Future Internet innovations is not in a mobile or social experience that’s just smaller but something more intimate, and more expressive – one which embraces a sensor-rich Smartphone including touchable screen and high-density display. The future will be wrapped in an envelope of sensation – vision, touch, taste, smell and sound – where companies will compete with each other to rush out new innovations that flood our pleasure centres with dopamine. Narrowing the gap between our physical and digital worlds – making our digital worlds as visual, tactile and emotional as the real world – such as the world’s first cyber-hug – is just around the corner. Today’s new Android and iPhone mobile app “sense and soul” that takes the orderly, linear and rational layout of Google+ and transforms it into something beautifully nonlinear,  unstructured and stimulating might be an important step in this direction.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Maps of the brain based on genetic correlation clusters, when only two clusters are specified. This approach solution identified a dorsal-ventral (D-V, i.e., top to bottom) division as the most distinct partition in the genetic patterning of cortical thickness. By contrast, for surface area the two genetic clusters form an anterior-posterior (A-P, i.e., front to back) division. Abbreviations: D, dorsal; V, ventral; A, anterior; P, posterior. Credit: Chi-Hua Chen, Ph.D., UCSD

Maps of the brain based on genetic correlation clusters, when only two clusters are specified. This approach solution identified a dorsal-ventral (D-V, i.e., top to bottom) division as the most distinct partition in the genetic patterning of cortical thickness. By contrast, for surface area the two genetic clusters form an anterior-posterior (A-P, i.e., front to back) division. Abbreviations: D, dorsal; V, ventral; A, anterior; P, posterior. Credit: Chi-Hua Chen, Ph.D., UCSD

An international research team studying the structure and organization of the brain has found that different genetic factors may affect the thickness of different parts of the cortex of the brain.

Johns Hopkins researchers say they have pinpointed a site in a highly developed area of the human brain that plays an important role in the subconscious recognition of which way is straight up and which way is down. The finding, described online in the journal Cerebral Cortex, may help account for some causes of spatial disorientation and dizziness, and offer targets for treating the feelings of unsteadiness and “floating” people experience when the brain fails to properly integrate input from the body’s senses.

The discovery of the first chemical to prevent the death of brain tissue in a neurodegenerative disease has been hailed as the “turning point” in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

A bedside scan could reveal an active mind hidden inside an unresponsive body. The method provides another tool for recognising consciousness in people who have been wrongly diagnosed as being in a vegetative state. Tests are also under way to use it to monitor people under general anaesthetic, to make sure they do not regain consciousness during an operation.

The more you want to use your brain – and the more you enjoy doing it – the more likely you are to stay sharp as you age. This is according to findings recently published in the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences.

A team of scientists have identified neural circuits that modulate REM sleep. 

People who are depressed may have triple the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, according to a study published in the October 2, 2013, online issue of Neurology

Scientists have discovered a process by which the “power plants” of the brain – tiny mitochondria found inside cells – signal that they are damaged and need to be eliminated. This is according to a study published in the journal Nature Cell Biology.

The hormone vasopressin may play a key role in jet lag, new research suggests.

Researchers have gained new insight into how localized hearing works in the brain. Their research is published in the Oct. 2, 2013 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Conceptual scheme of controlled release of ODN from a hydrogel composed of a CyD-containing molecular network by mechanical compression. (Credit: Image courtesy of National Institute for Materials Science)

A research group has succeeded in developing a gel material which is capable of releasing drugs in response to pressure applied by the patient.

New findings about how the brain functions to suppress pain have been published in the leading journal in the field Pain, by National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway) researchers. For the first time, it has been shown that suppression of pain during times of fear involves complex interplay between marijuana-like chemicals and other neurotransmitters in a brain region called the amygdala.

Researchers report that they have found a biological mechanism that appears to play a vital role in learning to read. This finding provides significant clues into the workings behind dyslexia — a collection of impairments unrelated to intelligence, hearing or vision that makes learning to read a struggle.

A new study suggests neural ‘synchrony’ may be key to understanding how the human brain perceives.

Sleep plays an important role in the brain’s ability to consolidate learning when two new potentially competing tasks are learned in the same day, research at the University of Chicago demonstrates.

New research for the first time explains exactly how two brain regions interact to promote emotionally motivated behaviors associated with anxiety and reward. The findings could lead to new mental health therapies for disorders such as addiction, anxiety, and depression.

Researchers have designed a decoded functional MRI neurofeedback method that induces a pre-recorded activation pattern in targeted early visual brain areas that could also produce the pattern through regular learning.

A new study conducted by monitoring the brain waves of sleeping adolescents has found that remarkable changes occur in the brain as it prunes away neuronal connections and makes the major transition from childhood to adulthood.

New research suggests that depression, even in children, can increase the risk of heart problems later in life. Teens who were depressed as children are far more likely than their peers to be obese, smoke cigarettes and lead sedentary lives, even if they no longer suffer from depression.

Alcohol consumption affects the brain in multiple ways, ranging from acute changes in behavior to permanent molecular and functional alterations. The general consensus is that in the brain, alcohol targets mainly neurons. However, recent research suggests that other cells of the brain known as astrocytic glial cells or astrocytes are necessary for the rewarding effects of alcohol and the development of alcohol tolerance.

New research published in The Journal of Neuroscience suggests that modifying signals sent by astrocytes, our star-shaped brain cells, may help to limit the spread of damage after an ischemic brain stroke.

The prefrontal cortex is a region of the brain that acts like a filter, keeping any irrelevant thoughts, memories and perceptions from interfering with the task-at-hand. In a new study, researchers have shown that inhibiting this filter can enhance unfiltered, creative thinking.

A new study suggests that depression results from a disturbance in the ability of brain cells to communicate with each other. The study indicates a major shift in our understanding of how depression is caused and how it should be treated.