Weekly Round Up

How does cigarette addiction affect the brain?

The effects of nicotine upon brain regions involved in addiction mirror those of cocaine, according to new neuroscience research.

Aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs taken for pain relief may reduce the effectiveness of anti-depressants such as Prozac, say US researchers.

Moments of absent mindedness such as losing your keys could be the result of tiny parts of the brain taking “naps” to recharge, a study finds.Researchers discovered that contrary to popular opinion the brain is not always entirely asleep or awake but parts of it can go “offline”.

Neuroscientists at the California Institute of Technology and their colleagues have tied the human aversion to losing money to a specific structure in the brain-the amygdala.

Music is not only able to affect your mood — listening to particularly happy or sad music can even change the way we perceive the world, according to researchers from the University of Groningen.

The positive effects of mindfulness meditation on pain and working memory may result from an improved ability to regulate a crucial brain wave called the alpha rhythm. This rhythm is thought to “turn down the volume” on distracting information, which suggests that a key value of meditation may be helping the brain deal with an often-overstimulating world. And in other  mindfulness research – fMRI shows how mindfulness meditation changes the decision making process


Stroke recovery boosted by Prozac

Stroke is the third biggest killer disease in Ireland – over 2,000 people die per year – causing more deaths than breast cancer, prostate cancer and bowel cancer combined. Up to 10,000 people will suffer a stroke in Ireland this year and one in five people will have a stroke at some time in their life.

An unexpected new finding for antidepressant drugs and a very important one.

Findings from the largest study of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and stroke report that giving stroke patients the antidepressant drug Prozac soon after the event helps their recovery from paralysis. A total of 118 French patients were involved in the study. The beneficial effects of the drug – more improvement in movement and greater independence – were seen after three months – helping patients gain independence. This finding suggests that this already licensed drug – also known as fluoxetine – could have a dual benefit in the treatment of acute ischemic stroke – that’s where blood flow and oxygen supply to the brain are impaired.

Antidepressant drugs can help neurons to grow

One theory about how antidepressants may help brains recover more quickly from stroke is that they encourage neurogenesis – the creation of new neurons – in particular in the hippocampus – a brain region implicated in emotion especially anxiety – an emotion which can wear down even the most resilient person.

The ability of antidepressant drugs to increase neuron growth and connections – brain plasticity – is a promising pathway for treatment of patients with ischemic stroke and moderate to severe motor deficit. It’s a controversial theory and so far it only appears to hold true in young mice. In middle-aged and older mice, no such neurogenesis was observed – so there may be another mechanisms operating. 

One thing is for sure – it’s an important finding and I hope we’ll see more work on this.