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Archive - Nov 12, 2013

Novel Therapies for Nicotine, Heroin, and Gambling Addiction Show Promise—Neuroscience 2013

Studies released today suggest promising new treatments for nicotine and heroin addiction, and further our understanding of pathological gambling and heroin abuse in those suffering chronic pain. This new knowledge, released at a Tuesday, November 12 press conference at Neuroscience 2013, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health, may one day lead to non-pharmaceutical interventions and therapies to treat addiction. 30,000 scientists are attending this meeting in San Diego. According to the World Health Organization, 15.3 million people worldwide suffer from drug use disorders. A variety of brain areas and processes play a role in addictive behaviors, complicating treatment and costing millions of dollars and lives each year. The studies described today contribute to an understanding of how compulsive disorders like addiction develop and provide new insight into methods to treat addictive behaviors . The new findings show that: magnetic stimulation of the brain helps some people decrease their smoking, and even quit altogether for up to six months after treatment (Abraham Zangen, abstract 635.03); stimulating an area of the brain associated with drug reward, the subthalamic nucleus, reduces rats’ motivation to take heroin (Carrie Wade, Ph.D., abstract 818.03); chronic pain leads rats already exposed to drugs to take more and higher doses of heroin, suggesting that people with addiction are more susceptible to overdose when in chronic pain (Lucia Hipolito, Ph.D., abstract 158.05).

Armadillos and Other Species Offer Clues to Human Brain Function and Vision Loss—Neuroscience 2013

Research released at a Monday, November 11 press conference reveals a new model for genetic eye disease and shows how animal models—from flies to armadillos and monkeys--can yield valuable information about the human brain. The findings were presented at Neuroscience 2013, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health. 30,000 scientists are attending this meeting. Animal models have long been central to how we understand the human brain, behavior, and nervous system due to similarities in many brain areas and functions across species. Almost every major medical advance in the last century was made possible by carefully regulated, humane animal research. Monday’s announced findings show that: the nine-banded armadillo may serve as a model for certain types of progressive blindness. The animal’s poor eyesight mimics many human disorders and may shed light on new treatment approaches for such diseases (Christopher Emerling, B.S., abstract 150.06); analysis of a baboon population reveals particular genes that may be involved in creating the “folds” in the structure of the brain. These findings provide information on how human genes may have evolved to create the brain’s shape and function (Elizabeth Atkinson, B.A., abstract 195.13); monkeys and humans use similar brain pathways while processing decisions. Detailed analyses of similarities and differences in brain wiring could provide new insights into decision-making in humans (Franz-Xaver Neubert, abstract 18.03). Other recent findings discussed show that: use of powerful genetic tools in fruit flies is helping to reveal the basic building blocks of brain circuitry and function.

Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors in Amygdala Could Be Anti-Depression Target—Neuroscience 2013

Decreasing a specific protein in the amygdala, an area of the brain involved in mood, creates antidepressant-like effects and reduces anxiety in mice. The findings, presented at a Monday, November 11Neuroscience 2013 press conference, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health, may help identify new molecular drug targets 30,000 scientists are attending this meeting. “Our data provide a new mechanism and location in the brain that can be used to study depression,” said lead author Yann Mineur, Ph.D., an Associate Research Scientist at Yale University School of Medicine. “These findings could lead to new tools to understand and diagnose depression, and might be the key to creating more effective antidepressants.” Previous studies show that drugs that block specific beta 2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (β2 nAChRs) can have antidepressant properties. To zero in on the role of this interaction, the researchers developed mice with localized reduction of β2 nAChRs expression and measured responses to social defeat stress tests. Dr. Mineur and his colleagues found that this change in the mouse amygdala appeared to protect against depression and anxiety in mice. The findings could guide researchers to a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms of depression and assist in the development of new drugs to treat mood disorders. When β2 nAChRs were knocked down in the hippocampus, there was no change in depression-like behavior or stress resilience in the social defeat test. These results suggest that decreasing nicotinic signaling through β2* nAChRs in the amygdala is antidepressant-like, likely due to the high level of tonic ACh input to this structure at baseline. The scientific presentation of Dr.

Musical Training Shapes Brain Anatomy and Affects Function—Neuroscience 2013

New findings show that extensive musical training affects the structure and function of different brain regions, how those regions communicate during the creation of music, and how the brain interprets and integrates sensory information. The findings were presented at a Monday, November 11 news conference at Neuroscience 2013, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health. 30,000 scientists are attending this meeting in San Diego. These insights suggest potential new roles for musical training including fostering plasticity in the brain, an alternative tool in education, and treating a range of learning disabilities. Today’s new findings show that: long-term high level musical training has a broader impact than previously thought. Researchers found that musicians have an enhanced ability to integrate sensory information from hearing, touch, and sight (Julie Roy, abstract 550.13); the age at which musical training begins affects brain anatomy as an adult; beginning training before the age of seven has the greatest impact (Yunxin Wang, abstract 765.07); brain circuits involved in musical improvisation are shaped by systematic training, leading to less reliance on working memory and more extensive connectivity within the brain (Ana Pinho, MS, abstract 122.13). Some of the brain changes that occur with musical training reflect the automation of task (much as one would recite a multiplication table) and the acquisition of highly specific sensorimotor and cognitive skills required for various aspects of musical expertise. “Playing a musical instrument is a multisensory and motor experience that creates emotions and motions — from finger tapping to dancing — and engages pleasure and reward systems in the brain.