Weekly Neuroscience Update

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A new research project sheds light on the role played by a specific area of the brain in our moral judgements. The more developed it is, the more understanding we show towards those who have unintentionally caused harm.

A new study could help explain how pain often follows a chemical induced itch.

Researchers at the University of Liverpool have identified the basis for how a single gene mutation can cause a rare neurological movement disorder known as dystonia.

A new sensor could help to reveal the role dopamine plays in learning and emotion.

Researchers have developed a method using MRI to identify when HIV is still present in the brain, despite effective drug treatment.

Pupil dilation is at its largest when people are most uncertain about their situation, a new study reports.

Sleep deprivation increases the number of available A1 adenosine receptors, but restorative sleep helps normalize them again, a new study reports.

Scientists report doxycycline, a common antibiotic, could help to disrupt the formation of negative memories associated with PTSD and in another new study the power of oxytocin in combating PTSD will be tested.

Brain researchers report the anterior cingulate cortex, an area of the brain associated with empathy, activates very weakly in people with autism.

Non-invasive ultrasound improves the delivery to the brain of a therapeutic antibody targeting Alzheimer’s disease, scientists have found.

A new blood test has been developed that could help to identify infants who may be experiencing bleeding in the brain as a result of abusive head trauma.

Researchers at the University of Zurich have identified the brain mechanism that governs decisions between honesty and self-interest. Using non-invasive brain stimulation, they could even increase honest behavior.

Finally this week, a new study reveals acute stress can increase prosocial behavior and empathy.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

 

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Fathers given boosts of the hormone oxytocin show increased activity in brain regions associated with reward and empathy when viewing photos of their toddlers, a new study finds. The journal Hormones and Behavior published the results of the study, the first to look at the influence of both oxytocin and vasopressin – another hormone linked to social bonding – on brain function in human fathers.

A new study looks at the association between tiredness, genetics, environment and health.

A genetic ‘switch’ has been discovered by researchers at the University of Leicester which could help to prevent or delay the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. In a paper published in the journal Cell Death and Differentiation, the team discovered that a gene called ATF4 plays a key role in Parkinson’s disease, acting as a ‘switch’ for genes that control mitochondrial metabolism for neuron health.

A new study supports olfactory testing as an early method to detect those at risk of develop dementia.

Researchers have experimentally confirmed the hypothesis, whereby comprehension of a word’s meaning involves not only the ‘classic’ language brain centres but also the cortical regions responsible for the control of body muscles, such as hand movements. The resulting brain representations are, therefore, distributed across a network of locations involving both areas specialised for language processing and those responsible for the control of the associated action.

Better quality sleep is linked to improved emotions and fewer stressors the next day, researchers report.

New research shows that patients with mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), even without evidence of brain lesions, may exhibit changes in brain connectivity detectable at the time of the injury that can aid in diagnosis and predicting the effects on cognitive and behavioural performance at 6 months.

Finally this week, preschool aged children who took naps after learning new verbs better understood the word when tested 24 hours later, a new study reports.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Nerve cells communicate with each other via intricate projections. In brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s these extensions atrophy, thereby causing connectivity problems. Credit DZNE/Detlef Friedrichs.

Nerve cells communicate with each other via intricate projections. In brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s these extensions atrophy, thereby causing connectivity problems. Credit DZNE/Detlef Friedrichs.

A new study shows the interdependency between the structure and function of neurons.

Neuroscientists have discovered an unexpected benefit of getting older – a more nuanced understanding of social signals, such as the age of others.

Children with autism show different patterns of brain activity during everyday gestures and movements than controls do, suggest unpublished results presented at the 2014 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting.

Researchers have gained fresh insights into how ‘local’ body clocks control waking and sleeping.

People with bipolar disorder who are being treated with the drug lithium are at risk of acute kidney damage and need careful monitoring, according to new research.

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the major cause of blindness in the western world, affecting around 50 million people. Now scientists at The University of Manchester have identified an important new factor behind its causes, which they hope could lead to new treatments.

A team of researchers has identified an enzyme key to the survival and spread of glioblastoma cancer cells that is not present in healthy brain cells, making the enzyme a promising therapeutic target.

It is claimed one in five students have taken the ‘smart’ drug Modafinil to boost their ability to study and improve their chances of exam success. But new research into the effects of Modafinil has shown that healthy students could find their performance impaired by the drug.

Researchers have developed new insight into a rare but deadly brain infection, called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML). This disease – which is caused by the JC virus – is most frequently found in people with suppressed immune systems and, until now, scientists have had no effective way to study it or test new treatments.

New research offers insight into short-term effects of maternal caregiving on a developing brain.

A team of researchers  has now been able to demonstrate in a study that the bonding hormone oxytocin inhibits the fear center in the brain and allows fear stimuli to subside more easily. This basic research could also usher in a new era in the treatment of anxiety disorders.

Blocking a key receptor in brain cells that is used by oxygen free radicals could play a major role in neutralizing the biological consequences of Alzheimer’s disease, according to new research.

Finally this week, brain scientists have long believed that older people have less of the neural flexibility (plasticity) required to learn new things. A new study shows that older people learned a visual task just as well as younger ones, but the seniors who showed a strong degree of learning exhibited plasticity in a different part of the brain than younger learners did.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Overly connected: Many pairs of brain regions — including those involved in sensory processing, emotion and motivation — are more tightly synchronized in children with autism (right) than in controls (left).

Overly connected: Many pairs of brain regions — including those involved in sensory processing, emotion and motivation — are more tightly synchronized in children with autism (right) than in controls (left).

Three studies published over the past two months have found significant evidence that children and adolescents with autism have brains that are overly connected compared with the brains of controls. The findings complicate the theory that autism is fundamentally characterized by weakly connected brain regions. Meanwhile new findings suggest the oxytocin receptor, a gene known to influence mother-infant bonding and pair bonding in monogamous species, also plays a special role in the ability to remember faces. This research has important implications for disorders in which social information processing is disrupted, including autism spectrum disorder. In addition, the finding may lead to new strategies for improving social cognition in several psychiatric disorders.

Researchers are gaining a better understanding of the neurochemical basis of addiction with a new technology called optogenetics.

We know that getting even a measly extra hour of sleep a night can have major benefits for us–like more memories, less anxiety, and happier genes. But scientists have tested another hypothesis for why we need to spend so much time horizontal: Sleep cleans our brains.

Scientists have pinpointed a specific part of the brain where Alzheimer’s begins and traced how the disease spreads.

Scientists have zapped an electrical current to people’s brains to erase distressing memories, part of an ambitious quest to better treat ailments such as mental trauma, psychiatric disorders and drug addiction.

Finally this week, many people can recall reading at least one cherished story that they say changed their life. Now researchers at Emory University have detected what may be biological traces related to this feeling: Actual changes in the brain that linger, at least for a few days, after reading a novel.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

A novel screening method makes it easier to diagnose and treat children with autism

A child with autism discovers how to evoke the onscreen video he likes best. Credit: Rutgers Sensory-Motor Integration Lab

Researchers have developed a new screening method to diagnose autism, which unlike current methods does not rely on subjective criteria. These results are published in a series of studies in the open-access journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.

Going to bed at different times every night throughout early childhood seems to curb children’s brain power, according to a large, long term study.

A computational vision scientist at the University of South Australia has just published new research describing a key advance in our understanding of how the brain perceives the physical world.

Oxytocin has long been known as the warm, fuzzy hormone that promotes feelings of love, social bonding and well-being. It’s even being tested as an anti-anxiety drug. But new research shows oxytocin also can cause emotional pain, an entirely new, darker identity for the hormone.

Ultrasound waves sent to specific brain regions can alter a person’s mood, according to a new study published in the journal Brain Stimulation.

A gene related to neural tube defects in dogs has for the first time been identified by researchers.

UCLA chemists and molecular biologists have for the first time used a “structure-based” approach to drug design to identify compounds with the potential to delay or treat Alzheimer’s disease, and possibly Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s disease and other degenerative disorders.

When love is the drug

Photos: James Duncan Davidson / TED. Photo editor: Mike Femia

Dr Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist, investigates the neurophysiology of economic decisions. His research at the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies  draws on economic theory, experimental economics, neuroscience, endocrinology, and psychology to develop a comprehensive understanding of human decisions.

Dr Zak also studies why we humans like and trust each other. And the answer, he’s found, is the compound oxytocin. In this photo above, Zak has brought a syringe loaded with oxytocin onstage, to create a striking visual aid by atomizing it into the air (now that’s what I call a prop!)

Oxytocin – the cuddle chemical – is a hormone made in the hypothalamus – a structure at the base of the brain involved in regulating strong emotions. Research has shown that behaviours necessary for developing long-term relationships such as hugging, kissing and skin-to-skin contact – trigger the release of this hormone into the blood and as the romantic attachment increases so does the amount of oxytocin circulating in the body.  In fact, it is suggested that this hormone ‘primes’ the brain to fall in love by acting on the brain to increase trust and reduce fear, increase empathy and generosity and increase attachment and bonding. For this reason oxytocin is sometimes called the cuddle chemical.  Some drug companies have considered putting oxytocin into perfumes and sprays  – to help attract a mate.

Yes folks …it’s official… love is a drug!