Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Neuroscientists at the University of Bristol are a step closer to understanding how the connections in our brain which control our episodic memory work in sync to make some memories stronger than others. The findings, published in Nature Neuroscience, reveal a previously unsuspected division of memory function in the pathways between two areas of the brain, and suggest that certain subnetworks within the brain work separately, to enhance the distinctiveness of memories.

A new study pinpoints the brain area responsible for forming direct links between environmental stimuli and enhanced focus.

Every few seconds, our eyelids automatically shutter and our eyeballs roll back in their sockets. So why doesn’t blinking plunge us into intermittent darkness and light? New research led by the University of California, Berkeley, shows that the brain works extra hard to stabilize our vision despite our fluttering eyes.

Our personality traits are linked to differences in the thickness and volume of various parts of our brains, an international study has suggested.

Researchers have found significant differences in the brains of teens with bipolar disorder that attempt to take their lives over those with the disorder who have never attempted suicide.

Women with lower estrogen levels may be more susceptible to developing PTSD according to new research.

A new study raises the question of whether a genetic mutation associated with neurodegeneration in one environment could act in a positive way in a different setting.

Researchers report early indicators of depression and anxiety may be evident in the brain from birth.

A cutting edge, non-invasive brain stimulation technique could improve cognitive control for people with conditions such as schizophrenia and autism.

A new computerized ‘mirror game’ has been shown to give more accurate diagnosis of schizophrenia than clinical interviews.

A new study reports on how a single instance of extreme stress can lead to long term neurological changes and trauma.

Social difficulties in people with autism are exacerbated by how other people perceive them at first meeting, researchers say.

Finally this week, researchers have revealed regions of the brain implicated in delusional misidentification syndromes.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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A new study finds those “earworm” songs that get stuck in our heads are usually faster, fairly generic and easier to remember, but with unique intervals that set them apart from ‘average’ pop songs.

Researchers have for the first time recorded how cells of the epidermis behave during the regrowth of adult limbs after amputation.

Proper communication between the left and right sides of the brain is critical for the development of advanced language skills, according to new research.

A team of researchers at TU Dresden has examined the underlying neural processes associated with short term task learning in a current imaging study. The results of the study are published today in Nature Communications.

A new study confirms that scanning a person’s brain with an fMRI is more accurate at picking up lies than a traditional polygraph test.

Contrary to popular belief, language is not limited to speech. A  recent study published in the journal PNAS, reveals that people also apply the rules of their spoken language to sign language.

Scientists at The University of Manchester have shown for the first time that if the brain is ‘tuned-in’ to a particular frequency, pain can be alleviated.

A new study appears to build on the previous research that suggests genetic mutations which affect mitochondria function could be critical to the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Meanwhile, researchers have also discovered a possible new treatment for the disease after noticing the way in which insulin signaling works in the brains and pancreas of diabetic patients; and in another study degeneration of the basal forebrain appears before cognitive and behavioural symptoms of Alzheimer’s occur.

Researchers were able to predict the orientation preference of individual neurons by adding up the responses of their dendritic spines, a new study reports.

Scientists have mapped what happens neurologically when new information influences a person to change his or her mind, a finding that offers more insight into the mechanics of learning.

The brain regulates social behaviour differently in males and females, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A team of  researchers has uncovered new details about the biology of telomeres, “caps” of DNA that protect the tips of chromosomes and play key roles in a number of health conditions, including cancer, inflammation and aging.

A new study uses retinal prosthetics to assess the brain’s ability to process visual information years after blindness occurs.

People suffering medical conditions causing low levels of oxytocin perform worse on empathy tasks, according to new research. And a new measuring method has detected oxytocin at much higher rates in blood serum and plasma than researchers previously thought.

Researchers believe they may have pinpointed an area of the brain that plays a role in maintaining human consciousness.

Scientists have uncovered new details about how a repeating nucleotide sequence in the gene for a mutant protein may trigger Huntington’s disease and other neurological diseases.

Finally this  week, a new study reports context processing problems could help to explain some of the symptoms and neuroimaging findings associated with PTSD.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

The study by Kep Kee Loh and Dr Ryota Kanai found that grey-matter density in the highlighted region of the brain (anterior cingulate cortex) was negatively associated with the amount of media multitasking activity. Credit Kep Kee Loh & Ryota Kanai.

The study by Kep Kee Loh and Dr Ryota Kanai found that grey-matter density in the highlighted region of the brain (anterior cingulate cortex) was negatively associated with the amount of media multitasking activity. Credit Kep Kee Loh & Ryota Kanai.

Simultaneously using mobile phones, laptops and other media devices could be changing the structure of our brains, according to new University of Sussex research.

Breathing meditation is a powerful ally for military veterans recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to research recently published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

Areas of the brain that respond to reward and pleasure are linked to the ability of a drug known as butorphanol to relieve itch, according to new research.

An international research team has identified gene mutations causing severe, difficult-to-treat forms of childhood epilepsy.

A chemical in the brain plays a vital role in controlling the involuntary movements and vocal tics associated with Tourette Syndrome (TS), a new study has shown.

Finally this week, the traditional understanding in neuroscience is that tactile sensations from the skin are only assembled to form a complete experience in the cerebral cortex, the most advanced part of the brain. However, this is challenged by new research findings from Lund University in Sweden that suggest both that other levels in the brain play a greater role than previously thought, and that a larger proportion of the brain’s different structures are involved in the perception of touch.

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

The human brain can recognize thousands of different objects, but neuroscientists have long grappled with how the brain perceives and identifies different objects. Now researchers have discovered that the brain organizes objects based on their physical size, with a specific region of the brain reserved for recognizing large objects and another reserved for small objects.

New research suggests that it is possible to suppress emotional autobiographical memories. The study published this month by psychologists at the University of St Andrews reveals that individuals can be trained to forget particular details associated with emotional memories. The important findings may offer exciting new potential for therapeutic interventions for individuals suffering from emotional disorders, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Neuropsychiatric conditions such as autism, schizophrenia and epilepsy involve an imbalance between two types of synapses in the brain: excitatory synapses that release the neurotransmitter glutamate, and inhibitory synapses that release the neurotransmitter GABA. Little is known about the molecular mechanisms underlying development of inhibitory synapses, but a research team from Japan and Canada has reported that a molecular signal between adjacent neurons is required for the development of inhibitory synapses.

A new study by University of Pennsylvania and Thomas Jefferson University scientists is using brain recordings to infer the way people organize associations between words in their memories.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Visual and auditory stimuli that elicit high levels of engagement and emotional response can be linked to reliable patterns of brain activity, a team of researchers reports. Their findings could lead to new ways for producers of films, television programs and commercials to predict what kinds of scenes their audiences will respond to.

Implants that deliver pulses of light into the brain could lead to new treatments for diseases such as epilepsy and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a severe type of anxiety disorder that can occur after an individual experiences a traumatic event. However, at present, doctors are unable to predict who will develop these disorders. Now, a new study seeks to identify individuals who are more susceptible to long-standing disorders if exposed to a traumatic event.

Researchers have discovered how a part of the brain helps predict future events from past experiences. The work sheds light on the function of the front-most part of the frontal lobe, known as the frontopolar cortex, an area of the cortex uniquely well developed in humans in comparison with apes and other primates.

Fish cannot display symptoms of autism, schizophrenia or other human brain disorders. However, a team of MIT biologists has shown that zebrafish can be a useful tool for studying the genes that contribute to such disorders.

Johns Hopkins researchers say they have discovered one of the most important cellular mechanisms driving the growth and progression of meningioma, the most common form of brain and spinal cord tumor. A report on the discovery, published in the journal Molecular Cancer Research, could lead the way to the discovery of better drugs to attack these crippling tumors, the scientists say.

Researchers have furthered understanding of the mechanism by which the cells that insulate the nerve cells in the peripheral nervous system, Schwann cells, protect and repair damage caused by trauma and disease.

Neuroscience News Update

University of Georgia researchers have developed a map of the human brain that shows great promise as a new guide to the inner workings of the body’s most complex and critical organ.

Brains that maintain healthy nerve connections as we age help keep us sharp in later life, new research funded by the charity Age UK has found.

The brain reward systems of women with anorexia may work differently from those of women who are obese, a new study suggests.

Emotional stress caused by last year’s tsunami caused a part of some survivors’ brains to shrink, according to scientists in Japan who grasped a unique chance to study the neurological effects of trauma. On a quest to better understand post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the researchers compared brain scans they had taken of 42 healthy adolescents in other studies in the two years before the killer wave, with new images taken three to four months thereafter. Among those with PTSD symptoms, they found a shrinking in the orbitofrontal cortex, a part of the brain involved in decision-making and the regulation of emotion, said a study published in the Nature journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Neuroscience News Update

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Harvard neuroscience researchers have just confirmed what many of us have suspected all along: social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest are “brain candy” for Internet users. Every status update, every tweet, every pin is a micro-jolt delivered squarely to the pleasure centers of our brains.

Brain networks — areas of the brain that regularly work together — might avoid traffic jams at their busiest intersections by communicating on different frequencies, according to new research.

Researchers at Stanford University have determined from brain-imaging data whether experimental subjects are recalling events of the day, singing silently to themselves, performing mental arithmetic, or merely relaxing.

Recent research has revealed some of the changes that take place in women’s brains during motherhood, and experts say that it could help them figure out what motivates mothers to care for their babies.

A study recently published by a University of Colorado School of Medicine researcher shows that reward circuits in the brain are sensitized in anorexic women and desensitized in obese women. The findings also suggest that eating behavior is related to brain dopamine pathways involved in addictions.

Researchers at the University of Leeds have found a previously unknown mechanism through which pain is signalled by nerve cells – a discovery that could explain the current failings in the drug development process for painkillers and which may offer opportunities for a new approach.

Post-traumatic stress is estimated to afflict more than 300,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, but until now, it’s been labeled a “soft disorder” — one without an objective biological path to diagnosis. That may have changed this week, after researchers at the University of Minnesota and the Minneapolis VA Medical Center announced they’d found a distinct pattern of brain activity among PTSD sufferers.

A live tweeted brain surgery this week reached an online audience of more than 14 million people, according to the hospital that used social media to broadcast the operation.

High-impact activities like football are known to cause creeping brain damage that can’t easily be detected until after death. But promising research may give rise to new methods of diagnosing chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Scientists have proven that light intensity influences our cognitive performance and how alert we feel.

Scientists at Weill Cornell Medical College have discovered that the single protein—alpha 2 delta—exerts a spigot-like function, controlling the volume of neurotransmitters and other chemicals that flow between the synapses of brain neurons. The study, published online in Nature, shows how brain cells talk to each other through these signals, relaying thoughts, feelings and action, and this powerful molecule plays a crucial role in regulating effective communication.

Weekly Round Up

A part of the human brain that’s involved in emotion gets particularly excited at the sight of animals, a new study has shown. The brain structure in question is the amygdala: that almond-shaped, sub-cortical bundle of nuclei that used to be considered the brain’s fear centre, but which is now known to be involved in many aspects of emotional learning.

Studies have shown that ­meditating regularly can help relieve chronic pain, but the neural mechanisms ­underlying the relief were unclear. Now, ­researchers from MIT, Harvard, and Massachusetts General ­Hospital have found a possible explanation.

Men and women differ in the way they anticipate an unpleasant emotional experience, which influences the effectiveness with which that experience is committed to memory according to new research.

New research has contradicted a 40-year-old theory of how the brain controls impulsive behavior

Head trauma may increase the risk of developing schizophrenia, a new study says. The results show people who have suffered from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) are 1.6 times more likely to develop schizophrenia compared with those who have not suffered such an injury.

Researchers from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and Beaumont Hospital have conducted a study which has found striking brain similarities in bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

The brains of older people are not slower but rather wiser than young brains, which allows older adults to achieve an equivalent level of performance, according to research undertaken at the University Geriatrics Institute of Montreal by Dr. Oury Monchi and Dr. Ruben Martins of the University of Montreal.

A new study testing alcohol’s effects on brain activity finds that alcohol dulls the brain “signal” that warns people when they are making a mistake, ultimately reducing self control.

Researchers in the Netherlands have been able to shed more light on how combat experiences change the brains of soldiers.

And finally, new research from MIT suggests that there are parts of our brain dedicated to language and only language, a finding that marks a major advance in the search for brain regions specialized for sophisticated mental functions.  And this week,new research makes the case that language is not a key part of thinking about numbers, but the key part, overriding other influences like cultural ones.

Weekly Round Up

 

All in the mind: Repressing bad memories for long enough can lead to us forgetting them completely, researchers claim

Fear burns memories into our brain, according to new research by University of California, Berkeley and if those memories are causing you distress, a team of researchers from Lund University in Sweden may have the answer. People can train their minds to erase embarrassing moments from their mind, according to their research. Scientists used EEG scans to monitor the parts of the brain that became active when volunteers actively tried to forget something. They were also able to pinpoint the exact moment a memory is ‘forgotten’, and claim that long-term suppression of a memory is a sure-fire way of permanently erasing it. The researchers say that mastering the technique could be useful for people who suffer from depression or post traumatic stress disorder, where constantly dwelling on upsetting or traumatic memories has a devastating effect on mental health.

And on the subject of PTSD, researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, are looking into the link between post-traumatic stress disorder and shrinkage of the hippocampus structure in the brain. (The hippocampus, which is Greek for “seahorse,” is a paired structure tucked inside each temporal lobe and shaped like a pair of seahorses, thence its name).

When we find something funny, our brains as well as our faces “light up” and the funnier we find a joke, the more activity is seen in “reward centres” – specific neurons which create feelings of pleasure, recent research shows.

Another region of the brain which also ‘lights up’  is in the medial orbito-frontal cortex when we experience beauty in a piece of art or a musical excerpt, according to new research funded by the Wellcome Trust. The study, published July 6 in the open access journal PLoS One, suggests that the one characteristic that all works of art, whatever their nature, have in common is that they lead to activity in that same region of the brain, and goes some way to supporting the belief that beauty does indeed lie in the beholder.

 

 

Weekly Round-Up

 

Eternal Sunshine Of the Spotless Mind

Would you take a pill to erase bad memories?

 

New Year is traditionally a time for many people to make a resolution to give up smoking. The smoking cessation medications bupropion and varenicline may both be associated with changes in the way the brain reacts to smoking cues, making it easier for patients to resist cravings, according to two reports posted online that will appear in the May print issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

If you are a parent of a teen going through puberty you will know all about the hormonal changes they go through.  Now, a Georgia State University scientist has found that those hormones in males may be key to changes in a part of the brain responsible for social behaviors.

It will take some time for those teen brains to develop fully though, as we know now from new research that the brain continues to develop after childhood and puberty, and is not fully developed until people are well into their 30s and 40s. The findings contradict current theories that the brain matures much earlier.

And still on the subject of teenagers, PBS science correspondent, Miles O’Brien looks at what could be happening to teenage brains as they develop in a rapid-fire world of technology and gadgets.

Finally, if you have ever watched the 2004 movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you will have seen the fictional characters played by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet use a technique to erase memories of each other when their relationship turns sour. It will have seemed an unreal expectation that we could erase memories so easily, but new research on “erasing” traumatic memories is quickly moving from the realm of science fiction to scientifically backed reality.

Introducing a new feature today – a weekly round-up of the best of the neuroscience news and views and latest research which has caught my attention.