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Brain

Study Reveals Evolution at Work

Brain • • GeneticsFeb 28 14

Study Reveals Evolution at Work

New research by UC Santa Barbara’s Kenneth S. Kosik, Harriman Professor of Neuroscience, reveals some very unique evolutionary innovations in the primate brain.

In a study published online today in the journal Neuron, Kosik and colleagues describe the role of microRNAs -  so named because they contain only 22 nucleotides -  in a portion of the brain called the outer subventricular zone (OSVZ). These microRNAs belong to a special category of noncoding genes, which prevent the formation of proteins.

“It’s microRNAs that provide the wiring diagram, dictating which genes are turned on, when they’re turned on and where they’re turned on,” said Kosik, who is also the co-director of UCSB’s Neuroscience Research Institute and a professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology. “There’s a core set with which all kinds of really complex things can be built, and these noncoding genes know how to put it together.”

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Study reveals workings of working memory

Brain • • NeurologyFeb 19 14

Study reveals workings of working memory

Keep this in mind: Scientists say they’ve learned how your brain plucks information out of working memory when you decide to act.

Say you’re a busy mom trying to wrap up a work call now that you’ve arrived home. While you converse on your Bluetooth headset, one kid begs for an unspecified snack, another asks where his homework project has gone, and just then an urgent e-mail from your boss buzzes the phone in your purse. During the call’s last few minutes these urgent requests - snack, homework, boss - wait in your working memory. When you hang up, you’ll pick one and act.

When you do that, according to Brown University psychology researchers whose findings appear in the journal Neuron, you’ll employ brain circuitry that links a specific chunk of the striatum called the caudate and a chunk of the prefrontal cortex centered on the dorsal anterior premotor cortex. Selecting from working memory, it turns out, uses similar circuits to those involved in planning motion.

In lab experiments with 22 adult volunteers, the researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to track brain activity during a carefully designed working memory task. They also measured how quickly the subjects could choose from working memory - a phenomenon the scientists called “output gating.”

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Family problems experienced in childhood and adolescence affect brain development

Brain • • NeurologyFeb 19 14

Family problems experienced in childhood and adolescence affect brain development

The study led by Dr Nicholas Walsh, lecturer in developmental psychology at the University of East Anglia, used brain imaging technology to scan teenagers aged 17-19. It found that those who experienced mild to moderate family difficulties between birth and 11 years of age had developed a smaller cerebellum, an area of the brain associated with skill learning, stress regulation and sensory-motor control. The researchers also suggest that a smaller cerebellum may be a risk indicator of psychiatric disease later in life, as it is consistently found to be smaller in virtually all psychiatric illnesses.

Previous studies have focused on the effects of severe neglect, abuse and maltreatment in childhood on brain development. However the aim of this research was to determine the impact, in currently healthy teenagers, of exposure to more common but relatively chronic forms of ‘family-focused’ problems. These could include significant arguments or tension between parents, physical or emotional abuse, lack of affection or communication between family members, and events which had a practical impact on daily family life and might have resulted in health, housing or school problems.

Dr Walsh, from UEA’s School of Psychology, said: “These findings are important because exposure to adversities in childhood and adolescence is the biggest risk factor for later psychiatric disease. Also, psychiatric illnesses are a huge public health problem and the biggest cause of disability in the world.

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Researchers find retrieval practice improves memory in severe traumatic brain injury

Brain • • NeurologyFeb 01 14

Kessler Foundation researchers find retrieval practice improves memory in severe traumatic brain injury

Kessler Foundation researchers find retrieval practice improves memory in severe traumatic brain injury

Robust results indicate that retrieval practice would improve memory in memory-impaired persons with severe TBI in real-life settings

West Orange, NJ. January 30, 2014. Kessler Foundation researchers have shown that retrieval practice can improve memory in individuals with severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). “Retrieval Practice Improves Memory in Survivors of Severe Traumatic Brain Injury,” was published as a brief report in the current issue of Archives of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Volume 95, Issue 2 (390-396) February 2014. The article is authored by James Sumowski, PhD, Julia Coyne, PhD, Amanda Cohen, BA, and John DeLuca, PhD, of Kessler Foundation.

“Despite the small sample size, it was clear that retrieval practice (RP) was superior to other learning strategies in this group of memory-impaired individuals with severe TBI,” explained Dr. Sumowski.

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Brain chemical ratios help predict developmental delays in preterm infants

Children's Health • • BrainDec 17 13

Brain chemical ratios help predict developmental delays in preterm infants

Researchers have identified a potential biomarker for predicting whether a premature infant is at high risk for motor development problems, according to a study published online in the journal Radiology.

“We are living in an era in which survival of premature birth is more common,” said Giles S. Kendall, Ph.D., consultant for the neonatal intensive care unit at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and honorary senior lecturer of neonatal neuroimaging and neuroprotection at the University College London. “However, these infants continue to be at risk for neurodevelopmental problems.”

Patients in the study included 43 infants (24 male) born at less than 32 weeks gestation and admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the University College of London between 2007 and 2010. Dr. Kendall and his research team performed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and MR spectroscopy (MRS) exams on the infants at their approximate expected due dates (or term-equivalent age). MRS measures chemical levels in the brain.

The imaging studies were focused on the white matter of the brain, which is composed of nerve fibers that connect the functional centers of the brain.

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Recurring memory traces boost long-lasting memories

Brain • • NeurologyDec 06 13

Recurring memory traces boost long-lasting memories

Bonn, Germany, December 5th, 2013 - While the human brain is in a resting state, patterns of neuronal activity which are associated to specific memories may spontaneously reappear. Such recurrences contribute to memory consolidation - i.e. to the stabilization of memory contents. Scientists of the DZNE and the University of Bonn are reporting these findings in the current issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. The researchers headed by Nikolai Axmacher performed a memory test on a series of persons while monitoring their brain activity by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The experimental setup comprised several resting states including a nap inside a neuroimaging scanner. The study indicates that resting periods can generally promote memory performance.

Depending on one’s mood and activity different regions are active in the human brain. Perceptions and thoughts also influence this condition and this results in a pattern of neuronal activity which is linked to the experienced situation. When it is recalled, similar patterns, which are slumbering in the brain, are reactivated. How this happens, is still largely unknown.

The prevalent theory of memory formation assumes that memories are stored in a gradual manner. At first, the brain stores new information only temporarily. For memories to remain in the long term, a further step is required. „We call it consolidation“, Dr. Nikolai Axmacher explains, who is a researcher at the Department of Epileptology of the University of Bonn and at the Bonn site of the DZNE. “We do not know exactly how this happens. However, studies suggest that a process we call reactivation is of importance. When this occurs, the brain replays activity patterns associated with a particular memory. In principle, this is a familiar concept. It is a fact that things that are actively repeated and practiced are better memorized. However, we assume that a reactivation of memory contents may also happen spontaneously without there being an external trigger.”

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Our pupils adjust as we imagine bright and dark scenes

BrainDec 03 13

Our pupils adjust as we imagine bright and dark scenes

Conjuring up a visual image in the mind - like a sunny day or a night sky - has a corresponding effect on the size of our pupils, as if we were actually seeing the image, according to new research.

These findings, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggest that the size of our pupils is not simply a mechanistic response, but one that also adjusts to a subjective sense of brightness.

“Visual imagery is a private and subjective experience which is not accompanied by strongly felt or visible physiological changes,” explains psychological scientist and lead researcher Bruno Laeng of the University of Oslo. “It is a particularly difficult topic to research, as years of controversy about the nature of mental imagery testifies.”

Along with co-author Unni Sulutvedt, also from the University of Oslo, Laeng conducted a series of experiments to see whether they could tap into subjective mental imagery by monitoring pupillary size with an eye-tracking device.

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Study pinpoints cell type and brain region affected by gene mutations in autism

Brain • • Psychiatry / PsychologyNov 23 13

Study pinpoints cell type and brain region affected by gene mutations in autism

A team led by UC San Francisco scientists has identified the disruption of a single type of cell - in a particular brain region and at a particular time in brain development - as a significant factor in the emergence of autism.

The finding, reported in the November 21, 2013 issue of Cell, was made with techniques developed only within the last few years, and marks a turning point in autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) research.

Large-scale gene sequencing projects are revealing hundreds of autism-associated genes, and scientists have begun to leverage new methods to decipher how mutations in these disparate genes might converge to exert their effects in the developing brain.

The new research focused on just nine genes, those most strongly associated with autism in recent sequencing studies, and investigated their effects using precise maps of gene expression during human brain development.

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Italy court ruling links mobile phone use to tumor

Brain • • CancerOct 20 12

Italy’s supreme court has upheld a ruling that said there was a link between a business executive’s brain tumor and his heavy mobile phone usage, potentially opening the door to further legal claims.

The court’s decision flies in the face of much scientific opinion, which generally says there is not enough evidence to declare a link between mobile phone use and diseases such as cancer and some experts said the Italian ruling should not be used to draw wider conclusions about the subject.

“Great caution is needed before we jump to conclusions about mobile phones and brain tumors,” said Malcolm Sperrin, director of medical physics and clinical engineering at Britain’s Royal Berkshire Hospital.

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Discovery of gatekeeper nerve cells explains the effect of nicotine on learning and memory

Brain • • NeurologyOct 08 12

Swedish researchers at Uppsala University have, together with Brazilian collaborators, discovered a new group of nerve cells that regulate processes of learning and memory. These cells act as gatekeepers and carry a receptor for nicotine, which can explain our ability to remember and sort information.

The discovery of the gatekeeper cells, which are part of a memory network together with several other nerve cells in the hippocampus, reveal new fundamental knowledge about learning and memory. The study is published today in Nature Neuroscience.

The hippocampus is an area of the brain that is important for consolidation of information into memories and helps us to learn new things. The newly discovered gatekeeper nerve cells, also called OLM-alpha2 cells, provide an explanation to how the flow of information is controlled in the hippocampus.

“It is known that nicotine improves cognitive processes including learning and memory, but this is the first time that an identified nerve cell population is linked to the effects of nicotine”, says Professor Klas Kullander at Scilifelab and Uppsala University.

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Oxytocin improves brain function in children with autism

Brain • • Psychiatry / PsychologyMay 20 12

Preliminary results from an ongoing, large-scale study by Yale School of Medicine researchers shows that oxytocin - a naturally occurring substance produced in the brain and throughout the body-  increased brain function in regions that are known to process social information in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

A Yale Child Study Center research team that includes postdoctoral fellow Ilanit Gordon and Kevin Pelphrey, the Harris Associate Professor of Child Psychiatry and Psychology, will present the results on Saturday, May 19 at 3 p.m. at the International Meeting for Autism Research.

“Our findings provide the first, critical steps toward devising more effective treatments for the core social deficits in autism, which may involve a combination of clinical interventions with an administration of oxytocin,” said Gordon. “Such a treatment approach will fundamentally improve our understanding of autism and its treatment.”

Social-communicative dysfunctions are a core characteristic of autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder that can have an enormous emotional and financial burden on the affected individual, their families, and society.

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Brain mechanisms link foods to rising obesity rates

Brain • • DietingFeb 07 12

An editorial authored by University of Cincinnati (UC) diabetes researchers to be published in the Feb. 7, 2012, issue of the journal Cell Metabolism sheds light on the biological factors contributing to rising rates of obesity and discusses strategies to reduce body weight.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, about one-third of U.S. adults are obese, a number that continues to climb.

“While we don’t usually think of it this way, body weight is regulated. How much we weigh is influenced by a number of biological systems, and this is part of what makes it so hard for people to lose weight and keep it off,” says Randy Seeley, PhD, Donald C. Harrison Endowed Chair, director of the Cincinnati Diabetes and Obesity Center and author on the paper along with Karen Ryan, PhD, an assistant professor in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at UC.

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Agent Shows Ability to Suppress Brain Metastasis and Related Damage

Brain • • CancerJan 07 12

Scientists are one step closer to repairing the damage caused by brain metastasis, a major challenge in cancer treatment, according to data published in Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

“We are making progress from the neck down in cancer treatment, but brain metastases are increasing and are often a primary reason patients with breast cancer do not survive,” said Patricia S. Steeg, Ph.D., head of the Women’s Cancers Section at the National Cancer Institute’s Center for Cancer Research.

Steeg, who is also a deputy editor of Clinical Cancer Research, another journal of the AACR, said very few drugs that are effective for the treatment of breast cancer break what scientists call the “blood–brain barrier” and treat disease established inside the brain.

Scientists are striving to understand the mechanisms and effects of brain cancer metastasis.

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A better way to remember

Brain • • NeurologyJun 20 11

Scientists and educators alike have long known that cramming is not an effective way to remember things. With their latest findings, researchers at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan, studying eye movement response in trained mice, have elucidated the neurological mechanism explaining why this is so. Published in the Journal of Neuroscience, their results suggest that protein synthesis in the cerebellum plays a key role in memory consolidation, shedding light on the fundamental neurological processes governing how we remember.

The “spacing effect”, first discovered over a century ago, describes the observation that humans and animals are able to remember things more effectively if learning is distributed over a long period of time rather than performed all at once. The effect is believed to be closely connected to the process of memory consolidation, whereby short-term memories are stabilized into long-term ones, yet the underlying neural mechanism involved has long remained unclear.

To clarify this mechanism, the researchers developed a technique based around the phenomenon of horizontal optokinetic response (HOKR), a compensatory eye movement which can be used to quantify the effects of motor learning. Studying HOKR in mice, they found that the long-term effects of learning are strongly dependent on whether training is performed all at once (“massed training”), or in spaced intervals (“spaced training”): whereas gains incurred in massed training disappeared within 24 hours, those gained in spaced training were sustained longer.

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New treatment dissolves blood clots in brain tissue

Brain • • NeurologyMay 30 11

A new treatment that treats a subset of stroke patients by combining minimally invasive surgery, an imaging technique likened to “GPS for the brain,” and the clot-busting drug t-PA appears to be safe and effective, according to a multicenter clinical trial led by Johns Hopkins researchers.

The novel treatment, detailed for the first time at this week’s European Stroke Conference in Hamburg, Germany, was developed for patients with intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH), a bleed in the brain that causes a clot to form within brain tissue. This clot builds up pressure and leaches inflammatory chemicals that can cause irreversible brain damage, often leading to death or extreme disability. The usual treatments for ICH - either general supportive care such as blood pressure control and ventilation, which is considered the current standard of care, or invasive surgeries that involve taking off portions of the skull to remove the clot - have similar mortality rates, ranging from 30 to 80 percent depending on the size of the clot.

Seeking to improve these mortality rates and surviving ICH patients’ quality of life, Daniel Hanley, M.D., professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and his colleagues developed and tested the new treatment on 60 patients at 12 hospitals in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany. They compared their results to those of 11 patients who received only supportive care.

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