Weekly Neuroscience Update

Researchers have found that neurons in a specific region of the frontal cortex, called the anterior cingulate cortex, become active during decisions involving competitive effort.

In a major breakthrough, an international team of scientists has proven that addiction to morphine and heroin can be blocked, while at the same time increasing pain relief.

Researchers have shown that activity in a certain region of the brain changes as children learn to reason about what other people might be thinking.

The human brain contains billions of neurons that are arranged in complex circuits, which enable people to function with regard to controlling movements, perceiving the world and making decisions. In order to understand how the brain works and what malfunctions occur in neurological disorders it is crucial to decipher these brain circuits. A new study, which is featured in the August 9 edition of Nature reveals that MIT neuroscientists have now come closer towards this goal, by discovering that two major classes of brain cells repress neural activity in specific mathematical ways by which one type subtracting from overall activation, whilst the other type divides it.

That fact that heavy drinking impacts the brain of developing youths is a well-known fact. However, now researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and VA San Diego Healthcare System have discovered that certain patterns of brain activity could also help to predict which youths are at risk of becoming problem drinkers. The study is featured online in the August edition of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. The study involved functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of 12 to 16 year old teenagers’ brains before they started drinking and who had an fMRI three years later. About half of the teenagers started drinking heavily over the 3-year period but the researchers noted that the fMRI scans taken before these group of teenagers started drinking, they already showed less fMRI response in areas of the brain that were associated earlier with heavy drinking.

Major depression or chronic stress can cause the loss of brain volume, a condition that contributes to both emotional and cognitive impairment. Now a team of researchers led by Yale scientists has discovered one reason why this occurs — a single genetic switch that triggers loss of brain connections in humans and depression in animal models.

Neuroscientists from The Scripps Institute have identified a specialized population of stem cells that have an impressive vocational calling: higher brain functioning. It’s an important finding that holds promise for the treatments of serious cognitive disorders — including those that impact on conscious function. And it also reveals how humans and other mammals are able to have such big brains.

Neuroscientists have discovered that the universal saying of “living in the moment” may be impossible. A study published in the journal Neuron reveals that neuroscientists have identified an area in the brain, which is responsible for using past decisions and outcomes to guide future behavior. The study is the first of its kind to analyze signals linked to metacognition, known as a person’s ability to monitor and control cognition, which researchers describe as “thinking about thinking.”

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.

 

 

Early childhood experiences influence the brain for life

Among the hot topics of debate at last month’s SFN meeting was that of the developing brain and how early childhood experiences, whether good or bad, influence the brain for a lifetime. 

Regina Sullivan of New York University postulates that child abuse-related epigenetic changes, which alter the brain, are passed on to the next generation, perhaps explaining the cycle of abuse observed in many families. (The development and maintenance of an organism is orchestrated by a set of chemical reactions that switch parts of the genome off and on at strategic times and locations. Epigenetics is the study of these reactions and the factors that influence them.)

The primary evidence for stress-related changes comes from human brain imaging, which has uncovered brain differences between children with a typical childhood and those who suffer abuse.

However, work being done by Bruce McEwen, professor of neuroscience at Rockefeller University in New York, shows that the effects of childhood experiences such as neglect or abuse, can be reversed through interventions such as high-quality early care and education programmes.

Source: New Scientist