Weekly Neuroscience Update

The human brain can recognize thousands of different objects, but neuroscientists have long grappled with how the brain perceives and identifies different objects. Now researchers have discovered that the brain organizes objects based on their physical size, with a specific region of the brain reserved for recognizing large objects and another reserved for small objects.

New research suggests that it is possible to suppress emotional autobiographical memories. The study published this month by psychologists at the University of St Andrews reveals that individuals can be trained to forget particular details associated with emotional memories. The important findings may offer exciting new potential for therapeutic interventions for individuals suffering from emotional disorders, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Neuropsychiatric conditions such as autism, schizophrenia and epilepsy involve an imbalance between two types of synapses in the brain: excitatory synapses that release the neurotransmitter glutamate, and inhibitory synapses that release the neurotransmitter GABA. Little is known about the molecular mechanisms underlying development of inhibitory synapses, but a research team from Japan and Canada has reported that a molecular signal between adjacent neurons is required for the development of inhibitory synapses.

A new study by University of Pennsylvania and Thomas Jefferson University scientists is using brain recordings to infer the way people organize associations between words in their memories.

Neuroscience research may help brain injury recovery

New research shows that the way the brain first captures and encodes a situation or event is quite different from how it processes subsequent similar events.

I was interested to read a special report from the Center for Neuro Skills which describes the latest developments into how the brain registers new memory and equally importantly, how it strengthens older memories.

It has been known for years that the so-called NMDA receptor – a  lock on the skin of the nerve cell which is ‘opened’ by a special key – the neurotransmitter glutamate – is involved in new learning and memory.

However this research shows that the way the brain first captures and encodes a situation or event is quite different from how it processes subsequent similar events,  and suggests a whole new NMDA-independent system involving the so-called AMPA receptor – a less powerful type of NMDA receptor –  involved in strengthening older memories.
Why is this so important?   

Well, this new system is known to be critically involved in Alzheimer’s disease and other kinds of brain deficit memory impairment including stroke and head injury.

In fact, you may be interested to know that several drug companies have developed drugs that open the AMPA receptors called ampakines – a class of compounds known to enhance attention span and alertness, and facilitate learning and memory.

Unlike earlier stimulants such as caffeine, methylphenidate (Ritalin), and the amphetamines, ampakines do not seem to have unpleasant, long-lasting side effects such as sleeplessness.

These new memory enhancing drugs will be coming to a pharmacy near you within the next few years!

Don’t forget!