Weekly Round Up

In a new study, participants who received electrical stimulation of the anterior temporal lobes were three times as likely to reach the fresh insight necessary to solve a difficult, unfamiliar problem than those in the control group. (Credit: iStockphoto/Andrey Volodin)

In this week’s round-up of the latest discoveries in the field of neuroscience – electric thinking caps, shrinking brains, brain controlled bionic arms, expanding memories..and much more.

Are we on the verge of being able to stimulate the brain to see the world anew with an electric thinking cap? Research by Richard Chi and Allan Snyder from the Centre for the Mind at the University of Sydney suggests that this could be the case.

Human brains have shrunk over the past 30,000 years, but it is not a sign of decreasing intelligence, according to scientists who suggest that evolution is making the key motor leaner and more efficient in an increasing population.

The LA Times reports that the FDA are about to test a brain-controlled prosthetic arm. The arm system, developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, uses a microchip implanted in the brain to record and decode signals to neurons that control muscles linked to the prosthesis.

Interesting abstract in the New Scientist which shows that just as gardeners prune unwanted growths from flowers, the brain has its own molecular secateurs for trimming back unwanted connections.

Researchers have identified a protein that appears vital for forming the right kind of connections in the rapidly growing brain of newborn babies.

New research by scientists at Royal Holloway, University of London provides evidence that the cerebellum, a part of the brain used to store memories for skilled movements, could also store memories important for mental skills

Research conducted with deaf people in Nicaragua shows that language may play an important role in learning the meanings of numbers.

In the Neuroscience of Resilience, Lisa Brookes Kift is asking the question what does the brain and neuroscience have to do with building up our  resilience?

Finally, if you do just one thing this weekend, make it a walk. A report in the New York Times this week reveals that taking a walk may expand the hippocampus – a part of the brain important to the formation of memories. In healthy adults, the hippocampus begins to atrophy around 55 or 60. So get your walking shoes on this weekend!

Early childhood experiences influence the brain for life

Among the hot topics of debate at last month’s SFN meeting was that of the developing brain and how early childhood experiences, whether good or bad, influence the brain for a lifetime. 

Regina Sullivan of New York University postulates that child abuse-related epigenetic changes, which alter the brain, are passed on to the next generation, perhaps explaining the cycle of abuse observed in many families. (The development and maintenance of an organism is orchestrated by a set of chemical reactions that switch parts of the genome off and on at strategic times and locations. Epigenetics is the study of these reactions and the factors that influence them.)

The primary evidence for stress-related changes comes from human brain imaging, which has uncovered brain differences between children with a typical childhood and those who suffer abuse.

However, work being done by Bruce McEwen, professor of neuroscience at Rockefeller University in New York, shows that the effects of childhood experiences such as neglect or abuse, can be reversed through interventions such as high-quality early care and education programmes.

Source: New Scientist