Could your brain repair itself?

Imagine the brain could reboot, updating its damaged cells with new, improved units. That may sound like science fiction — but it’s a potential reality scientists are investigating right now. Ralitsa Petrova details the science behind neurogenesis and explains how we might harness it to reverse diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

EvC dwarfism results from genetic mutations that disrupt the signaling pathway known as sonic hedgehog (Shh). Statistical analyses confirmed the significant negative association between EvC and bipolar disorder. This further suggested that the Shh pathway plays a role in bipolar disorder. This image is for illustrative purposes only and shows the 3D structure of the Sonic Hedgehog protein. Credit Peter Znamenskiy/ Hall et al.

EvC dwarfism results from genetic mutations that disrupt the signaling pathway known as sonic hedgehog (Shh). Statistical analyses confirmed the significant negative association between EvC and bipolar disorder. This further suggested that the Shh pathway plays a role in bipolar disorder. This image is for illustrative purposes only and shows the 3D structure of the Sonic Hedgehog protein. Credit Peter Znamenskiy/ Hall et al.

Researchers have identified what is likely a key genetic pathway underlying bipolar disorder, a breakthrough that could lead to better drugs for treating bipolar affective disorder, as well as depression and other related mood disorders.

Hubs are locations in the brain where different networks come together to help us think and complete mental tasks. Now, a new study offers a fresh view of how injury affects the brain. It finds damage to brain hubs disrupts our capacity to think and adapt to everyday challenges more severely than damage to locations distant from hubs.

Neuroscientists have found that a gene mutation that arose more than half a million years ago may be key to humans’ unique ability to produce and understand speech.

A paper published this month in Biological Psychiatry shows that children who spent their early years in these institutions have thinner brain tissue in cortical areas that correspond to impulse control and attention.

Researchers have found vital new evidence on how to target and reverse the effects caused by one of the most common genetic causes of Parkinson’s.

Neuroscientists and engineers at North Carolina’s Duke University have pioneered a method with which the effects of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) on the brain can be measured. The Duke team has made it possible to measure the response of a single neuron to an electromagnetic charge–something that has not before been possible. The work offers the potential to improve and initiate novel TMS therapy approaches.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Glioma cells tend to congregate at blood vessel junctions, almost as if camping alongside a stream where it joins a river. The ready supply of nutrients would allow the cell to grow into a larger tumor mass. Credit University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Glioma cells tend to congregate at blood vessel junctions, almost as if camping alongside a stream where it joins a river. The ready supply of nutrients would allow the cell to grow into a larger tumor mass. Credit University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Researchers have shed new light on how cells called gliomas migrate in the brain and cause devastating tumors. The findings, published in Nature Communications, show that gliomas — malignant glial cells — disrupt normal neural connections and hijack control of blood vessels.

New details on the NMDA receptor could aid development of drugs for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, depression, other neurological disorders.

In a new study, scientists took a molecular-level journey into microtubules, the hollow cylinders inside brain cells that act as skeletons and internal highways. They watched how a protein called tubulin acetyltransferase (TAT) labels the inside of microtubules. The results, published in Cell, answer long-standing questions about how TAT tagging works and offer clues as to why it is important for brain health.

Patients with persistent ringing in the ears – a condition known as tinnitus – process emotions differently in the brain from those with normal hearing, researchers report in the journal Brain Research.

Pornography triggers brain activity in people with compulsive sexual behaviour – known commonly as sex addiction – similar to that triggered by drugs in the brains of drug addicts, according to a University of Cambridge study published in the journal PLOS ONE. However, the researchers caution that this does not necessarily mean that pornography itself is addictive.

Around half of the genes that influence how well a child can read also play a role in their mathematics ability, say scientists from UCL, the University of Oxford and King’s College London who led a study into the genetic basis of cognitive traits.

Psychologists at Stony Brook University, NY, suggest that about 20% of the population are genetically predisposed to be more aware and empathic. Now, in a new study, they explore which regions of the brain are implicated in this. They publish their findings in the journal Brain and Behavior.

Learning a second language may help improve brain function regardless of when you start, according to a new study.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

The hippocampus is a region of the brain largely responsible for memory formation. Credit Salk Institute.

The hippocampus is a region of the brain largely responsible for memory formation. Credit Salk Institute.

Scientists have created a new model of memory that explains how neurons retain select memories a few hours after an event. This new framework provides a more complete picture of how memory works, which can inform research into disorders liked Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, post-traumatic stress and learning disabilities.

A switch in the brain of people with epilepsy dictates whether their seizures will be relatively mild or lead to a dangerous and debilitating loss of consciousness, Yale researchers have found.

By predicting our eye movements, our brain creates a stable world for us. Researchers used to think that those predictions had so much influence that they could cause us to make errors in estimating the position of objects. Neuroscientists at Radboud University have shown this to be incorrect. The Journal of Neuroscience published their findings – which challenge fundamental knowledge regarding coordination between brain and eyes.

Extreme and traumatic events can change a person — and often, years later, even affect their children. Researchers have now unmasked a piece in the puzzle of how the inheritance of traumas may be mediated.

Artists have structurally different brains compared with non-artists, a study has found. Participants’ brain scans revealed that artists had increased neural matter in areas relating to fine motor movements and visual imagery. The research, published in NeuroImage, suggests that an artist’s talent could be innate. But training and environmental upbringing also play crucial roles in their ability, the authors report.

Certain errors in visual perception in people with schizophrenia are consistent with interference or ‘noise’ in a brain signal known as a corollary discharge, a new study shows.

Finally this week,  a recent study has shown that use of abstract gestures is a powerful tool for helping children understand and generalize mathematical concepts.

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Johns Hopkins researchers report that people with chronic insomnia show more plasticity and activity than good sleepers in the part of the brain that controls movement.

Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and Vanderbilt University have created the most detailed 3-D picture yet of a membrane protein that is linked to learning, memory, anxiety, pain and brain disorders such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and autism.

New research has revealed the dramatic effect the immune system has on the brain development of young children. The findings suggest new and better ways to prevent developmental impairment in children in developing countries, helping to free them from a cycle of poverty and disease, and to attain their full potential.

Rate of change in the thickness of the brain’s cortex is an important factor associated with a person’s change in IQ, according to a collaborative study by scientists in five countries.

Researchers have found that decision-making accuracy can be improved by postponing the onset of a decision by a mere fraction of a second. The results could further our understanding of neuropsychiatric conditions characterized by abnormalities in cognitive function and lead to new training strategies to improve decision-making in high-stake environments. The study was published in the March 5 online issue of the journal PLoS One.

A study has revealed how the fatal neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is transmitted from cell to cell, and suggests the spread of the disease could be blocked.

Research from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden suggests that the expression of the so called MYC gene is important and necessary for neurogenesis in the spinal cord. The findings are being published in the journal  EMBO Reports .

Our memories are inaccurate, more than we’d like to believe. And now a study demonstrates one reason: we apparently add current experiences onto memories.

Damage to the brain may still occur even if symptoms of traumatic brain injury are not present, scientists suggest.

The brain processes read and heard language differently. This is the key and new finding of a study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Temporo-parietal jonction (TPJ) © Perrine Ruby / Inserm

Temporo-parietal jonction (TPJ) © Perrine Ruby / Inserm

Some people recall a dream every morning, whereas others rarely recall one. A research team has studied the brain activity of these two types of dreamers in order to understand the differences between them. In a study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, the researchers show that the temporo-parietal junction, an information-processing hub in the brain, is more active in high dream recallers. Increased activity in this brain region might facilitate attention orienting toward external stimuli and promote intrasleep wakefulness, thereby facilitating the encoding of dreams in memory.

Many psychiatric disorders are accompanied by memory deficits. Basel scientists have now identified a network of genes that controls fundamental properties of neurons and is important for human brain activity, memory and the development of schizophrenia. 

Researchers have taken a major step toward identifying the specific genes that contribute to bipolar disorder.

A recent study conducted by Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute of Aging found that aging adults with hearing loss are at higher risk for accelerated brain-tissue loss.

Brain cell regeneration has been discovered in a new location in human brains. The finding raises hopes that these cells could be used to help people recover after a stroke, or to treat other brain diseases.

Finally this week, researchers are hoping that the world’s largest simulated brain — known as Spaun — will be used to test new drugs that lead to breakthrough treatments for neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Brain scans show a correlation between how well participants could make a connection between a new word and a sound, and the gray matter volume in the hippocampus and cerebellum. (Credit: Photo/Qinghua He)

A combination of brain scans and reading tests has revealed that several regions in the brain are responsible for allowing humans to read. The findings open up the possibility that individuals who have difficulty reading may only need additional training for specific parts of the brain — targeted therapies that could more directly address their individual weaknesses.

Children with Asperger’s syndrome show patterns of brain connectivity distinct from those of children with autism, according to a new study. 

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.

Using direct human brain recordings, a research team has identified a new type of cell in the brain that helps people to keep track of their relative location while navigating an unfamiliar environment.

A collaborative team of researchers has uncovered evidence that a specific genetic alteration appears to contribute to disorders of brain development, including schizophrenia. They also found that schizophrenia shares a common biological pathway with Fragile X mental syndrome, a disorder associated with both intellectual impairment and autism.
A team of researchers has identified 18 new genes responsible for driving glioblastoma multiforme, the most common—and most aggressive—form of brain cancer in adults. The study was published August 5, 2013, in Nature Genetics.

Johns Hopkins biophysicists have discovered that full activation of a protein ensemble essential for communication between nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord requires a lot of organized back-and-forth motion of some of the ensemble’s segments. Their research, they say, may reveal multiple sites within the protein ensemble that could be used as drug targets to normalize its activity in such neurological disorders as epilepsy, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

A sleepless night makes us more likely to reach for doughnuts or pizza than for whole grains and leafy green vegetables, suggests a new study from UC Berkeley that examines the brain regions that control food choices. The findings shed new light on the link between poor sleep and obesity

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.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

medium_46044113Advice to “sleep on it” before making a big decision may be wise, according to new brain-imaging research.

Scientists from the University of Southampton have identified the molecular system that contributes to the harmful inflammatory reaction in the brain during neurodegenerative diseases.An important aspect of chronic neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s or prion disease, is the generation of an innate within the brain. Results from the study open new avenues for the regulation of the inflammatory reaction and provide new insights into the understanding of the biology of , which play a leading role in the development and maintenance of this reaction.

A study conducted at the University of Granada and the University of York in Toronto, Canada, has revealed that bilingual children develop a better working memory –which holds, processes and updates information over short periods of time– than monolingual children.

Good mental health and clear thinking depend upon our ability to store and manipulate thoughts on a sort of “mental sketch pad.” In a new study, Yale School of Medicine researchers describe the molecular basis of this ability — the hallmark of human cognition — and describe how a breakdown of the system contributes to diseases such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Your eyes aren’t just advanced visual systems capturing images of what’s around you. New research published in the Journal of Neuroscience shows that when our eyes perceive visual stimuli, it gets encoded in our brains in ways that change our emotional reactions.

In a pair of new papers, researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences upend a long-held view about the basic functioning of a key receptor molecule involved in signaling between neurons, and describe how a compound linked to Alzheimer’s disease impacts that receptor and weakens synaptic connections between brain cells.

Fear responses can only be erased when people learn something new while retrieving the fear memory. This is the conclusion of a study conducted by scientists from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and published in the leading journal Science.

Injuries that result in chronic pain, such as limb injuries, and those unrelated to the brain are associated with epigenetic changes in the brain which persist months after the injury, according to researchers at McGill University.

Montreal researchers find that music lessons before age seven create stronger connections in the brain.

A team of political scientists and neuroscientists has shown that liberals and conservatives use different parts of the brain when they make risky decisions, and these regions can be used to predict which political party a person prefers.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

medium_6835040374Two recent pieces of work raise the prospect of being able to predict and even regulate a person’s risk-taking behavior, by first observing activity of the anterior cingulate cortex and then dialing it up or down.

A new study shows that for millions of individuals around the world who suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), anger is more than an emotion; it’s an agent that exacerbates their illness.

Brain changes persist for months in children who have sustained a mild traumatic brain injury, or concussion, U.S. researchers say.

Chinese researchers have devised a new technique for reprogramming cells from human urine into immature brain cells that can form multiple types of functioning neurons and glial cells. The technique, published in the journal Nature Methods, could prove useful for studying the cellular mechanisms of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and for testing the effects of new drugs that are being developed to treat them.

Researchers have discovered how the brain assesses confidence in its decisions. The findings explain why some people have better insight into their choices than others.

Scientists have combined and translated two kinds of brain wave recordings into music, transforming one recording (EEG) to create the pitch and duration of a note, and the other (fMRI) to control the intensity of the music.

A compassion-based meditation program can significantly improve a person’s ability to read the facial expressions of others, finds a study published by Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. This boost in empathic accuracy was detected through both behavioral testing of the study participants and through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of their brain activity.

Your brain has at least four different senses of location — and perhaps as many as 10. And each is different, according to new research from the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience, at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

photo credit: Amanda Nicole Betley via photopin cc