Weekly Update: Brain Research

Using a sling or cast after injuring an arm may cause your brain to shift quickly to adjust, according to a study published in the January 17, 2012, print issue of Neurology®. The study found increases in the size of brain areas that were compensating for the injured side, and decreases in areas that were not being used due to the cast or sling.

A  new UC Davis study shows how the brain reconfigures its connections to minimize distractions and take best advantage of our knowledge of situations.

Neuroscientists at Kessler Foundation have documented increased cerebral activation in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) following memory retraining using the modified Story Memory Technique (mSMT).  This is the first study to demonstrate that behavioral interventions can have a positive effect on brain function in people with cognitive disability caused by MS, an important step in validating the clinical utility of cognitive rehabilitation.

A program designed to boost cognition in older adults also increased their openness to new experiences, researchers report, demonstrating for the first time that a non-drug intervention in older adults can change a personality trait once thought to be fixed throughout the lifespan.

Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry (IoP) at King’s College London have, for the first time, identified the facial expression of anxiety. The facial expression for the emotion of anxiety comprises an environmental scanning look that appears to aid risk assessment. The research was published this week in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

New research from Uppsala University, Sweden, shows that a specific brain region that contributes to a person’s appetite sensation is more activated in response to food images after one night of sleep loss than after one night of normal sleep. Poor sleep habits can therefore affect people’s risk of becoming overweight in the long run. The findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Teenagers are more susceptible to developing disorders like addiction and depression, according to a paper published by Pitt researchers Jan. 16 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Harvard scientists have developed the fullest picture yet of how neurons in the brain interact to reinforce behaviors ranging from learning to drug use, a finding that might open the door to possible breakthroughs in the treatment of addiction.

Virtual reality-enhanced exercise, or “exergames,” combining physical exercise with computer-simulated environments and interactive videogame features, can yield a greater cognitive benefit for older adults than traditional exercise alone, according to a new study published in the February issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Sleeping after a traumatic event might lock in bad memories and emotions, a new study has found.

A team of researchers at the MedUni Vienna’s Department of Neurophysiology (Centre for Brain Research) has discovered a previously unknown effect of opioids – that opioids not only temporarily relieve pain, but at the right dose can also erase memory traces of pain in the spinal cord and therefore eliminate a key cause of chronic pain.


Weekly Round Up

Are teenage brains wired to predict the next big music hit?

The brain is constantly changing as it perceives the outside world, processing and learning about everything it encounters. In a new study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, scientists find a surprising connection between two types of perception: If you’re looking at a group of objects and getting a general sense of them, it’s difficult for your brain to learn relationships between the objects.

Recent research published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.suggests that the activity in teen brains may have some Nostradamus-like qualities when it comes to predicting the hits or misses of popular music.

Fear burns memories into our brain, and new research by University of California, Berkeley neuroscientists explains how in findings that have implications for the treatment of PTSD.

Ands speaking of memory…have you forgotten where you put your keys recently? Your brain might be in a better state to recall where you put them at some times than at others, according to new research from UC Davis.

Weekly Round-Up


Why do we love to learn about the brain?

In today’s weekly round-up..how patients with signs of dementia may improve their brain health with exercise, how brain cooling could aid stroke recovery, how brain scans can predict the likely success of giving up smoking, and finally why learning about the brain can become addictive. 

 According to researchers, just 40 minutes of moderate exercise in pensioners physically grows the brain and helps people enhance their brain power. It was found that regular exercise programs work on people already showing signs of dementia and loss of brain function. Meanwhile, McGill’s Dr Véronique Bohbot, believes that spatial strategies can reduce risk of dementia.

Cooling the brain of patients who have suffered a stroke could dramatically improve their recovery, according to research at the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh.

Were you one of the many who made a New Year’s Resolution to give up smoking?  Brain scans showing neural reactions to pro-health messages can predict if you’ll keep that resolution to quit smoking more accurately than you yourself can. That’s according to a new study forthcoming in Health Psychology.

Finally, in the Psychology Today blog, Dr David Rock asks the question “why is it so engaging, almost addictive, to learn about how your brain functions” and concludes that it is “because it makes life feel richer, and enables us to achieve our intentions”.

What better way to end this week’s round-up! May the learning continue…

Latest research from computational neuroscience

Another fascinating topic from the SFN Annual Meeting was the research being undertaken in the area of computational neuroscience.

Computational neuroscience is the study of brain function in terms of the information processing properties of the structures that make up the nervous system.

It is an interdisciplinary science that links the diverse fields of neuroscience, cognitive science and psychology with electrical engineering, computer science, mathematics and physics.

In an interview in the current edition of New Scientist, Professor Terry Sejnowski, head of the computational neurobiology lab at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, says some of the most intriguing results in computational neuroscience come from collaborations between modelers and experimentalists.

Professor Sejnowski and his research colleagues’ research in modeling signal transfer patterns throughout the brain has resulted in new techniques which make it possible to simultaneously record signals from many neurons. The sensitivity means scientists can for the first time, watch the output from a neuron spread through the brain.

Research has also found that neurons respond differently to different stimuli (for example, signals required to move a prosthetic arm can change when people are tired). This research will help improve brain-machine interferences such as prosthetic limbs and thought-controlled wheelchairs.