Weekly Neuroscience Update

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This is a simulated seizure activity on cortical tissue. NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to Y. Wang.

A new study explores which of the two main patterns of brain activity may be seen during the onset of an epileptic seizure.

Researchers link obsessive behaviours in frontotemporal dementia (FTD) to immune pathways and suggest targeting the immune system could be a new strategy for the treatment of FTD.

Scientists have identified a gene that plays a vital role in the production of neurons and glial cells in the brain.

Reviewing brain scans of bipolar patients, researchers observe notable differences in the thickness of gray matter in areas of the brain associated with motivation and control inhibition compared to those without the disorder.

Researchers use optogenetics to study impairment to the CA2 region of the hippocampus.

Stimulating the brain by taking on leadership roles at work or staying on in education help people stay mentally healthy in later life, according to new research.

Our brains process foreign-accented speech with better real-time accuracy if we can identify the accent we hear, according to a team of neurolinguists.

The puzzle of how the brain regulates blood flow to prevent it from being flooded and then starved every time the heart beats has been solved with the help of engineering.

Researchers say stroke prevention strategy is also helping to reduce dementia in people aged 80 and over.

Finally this week, a new study reveals the amygdala has distinct neurons that can judge ambiguity and intensity of facial expressions.

 

Scientists Identify Key Cells in Touch Sensation

Ellen Lumpkin, PhD, professor of somatosensory biology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, explains how her lab revealed how cells in our skin help us feel fine textures and details.

Touch is the last frontier of sensory neuroscience. The cells and molecules that initiate vision—rod and cone cells and light-sensitive receptors—have been known since the early 20th century, and the senses of smell, taste, and hearing are increasingly understood. But almost nothing is known about the cells and molecules responsible for initiating our sense of touch.

This study is the first to use optogenetics—a new method that uses light as a signaling system to turn neurons on and off on demand—on skin cells to determine how they function and communicate.

The team showed that skin cells called Merkel cells can sense touch and that they work virtually hand in glove with the skin’s neurons to create what we perceive as fine details and textures.

The findings not only describe a key advance in our understanding of touch sensation, but may stimulate research into loss of sensitive-touch perception.

Several conditions—including diabetes and some cancer chemotherapy treatments, as well as normal aging—are known to reduce sensitive touch. Merkel cells begin to disappear in one’s early 20s, at the same time that tactile acuity starts to decline. “No one has tested whether the loss of Merkel cells causes loss of function with aging—it could be a coincidence—but it’s a question we’re interested in pursuing,” Dr. Lumpkin said.

In the future, these findings could inform the design of new “smart” prosthetics that restore touch sensation to limb amputees, as well as introduce new targets for treating skin diseases such as chronic itch.

“The new findings should open up the field of skin biology and reveal how sensations are initiated,” Dr. Lumpkin said. Other types of skin cells may also play a role in sensations of touch, as well as less pleasurable skin sensations, such as itch. The same optogenetics techniques that Dr. Lumpkin’s team applied to Merkel cells can now be applied to other skin cells to answer these questions.

Source: Columbia University Medical Center

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Image: Pixmac.com

Gym-style exercise may improve not only general health in middle age, but also brain function, according to new research.

Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University have discovered that blocking a certain enzyme in the brain can help repair the brain damage associated with multiple sclerosis and a range of other neurological disorders.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR) have found a small population of neurons that is involved in measuring time.

Two proteins have a unique bond that enables brain receptors essential to learning and memory to not only get and stay where they’re needed, but to be hauled off when they aren’t, researchers say.

Scientists have discovered that the brain circuits we engage when we think about social matters, such as considering other people’s views, or moral issues, inhibit the circuits that we use when we think about inanimate, analytical
things, such as working on a physics problem or making sure the numbers add up when we balance our budget. And they say, the same happens the other way around: the analytic brain network inhibits the social network.

Lund University researchers plan to use optogenetics to stimulate neurons to release more dopamine to combat Parkinson’s disease.

A new finding could lead to strategies for treating speech loss after a stroke and helping children with dyslexia. New research links motor skills and perception, specifically as it relates to a second finding – a new understanding of what the left and right brain hemispheres “hear.”

UCLA researchers have for the first time measured the activity of a brain region known to be involved in learning, memory and Alzheimer’s disease during sleep. They discovered that this region, called the entorhinal cortex, behaves as if it’s remembering something, even during anesthesia–induced sleep — a finding that counters conventional theories about sleep-time memory consolidation.