Syndicate content

Archive - 2013

November 11th

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.

November 11th

New Studies Outline Different Approaches to Understanding and Perhap Treating Depression—Neuroscience 2013

When treating debilitating mental disorders, researchers look not only to the brain, but also to the body for answers. A new study in mice shows that levels of the inflammatory cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6), a molecule that is produced and secreted by white blood cells of the immune system, can be used to predict how animals might react to social stress. 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. More than 350 million people worldwide suffer from clinical depression and between 5 and 25 percent of adults suffer from generalized anxiety, according to the World Health Organization. The resulting emotional and financial costs to people, families, and society are significant. Further, antidepressants are not always effective and often cause severe side effects. Social stress is one of the most significant contributors to depression in humans, yet some individuals experience no adverse effects, while others are vulnerable. Understanding the differences could drastically affect how depression is treated. In the IL-6 study, the researchers found that higher levels of IL-6 released by stimulation of the white blood cells before a defeat experience predicted depression-like behavior, while lower levels predicted stress-resistance. They also showed that reducing IL-6 in the body made mice immune to social stress. Conversely, increasing IL-6 with a bone marrow transplant from a stress-susceptible mouse had the opposite effect, provoking depression-like behavior. The results suggest that measuring stimulated IL-6, a chemical easily found in the blood, could serve as a biomarker for stress sensitivity.

Nobel Prize Winner Says MicroRNAs and piRNAs Influence the Coordinated Regulation of Transcription in the Nucleus, and Translation at the Synapse—Neuroscience 2013

Classic behavioral studies of memory storage in people and animals have defined two temporally distinct phases for memory storage: a short-term memory lasting minutes that can be elicited by one training trial, and a long-term memory lasting days or more that typically requires repeated training trials. In earlier work, Eric Kandel, M.D., Director of the Kavil Institute for Brain Science at Columbia University, Howard Hughes Medical Institute senior investigator, and a co-recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discoveries concerning signal transduction in the nervous system, together with colleagues, delineated these two behavioral memory phases in studies of learned fear, an implicit form of memory, using the simple gill-withdrawal reflex of Aplysia, which is a marine snail. This work revealed that there is a cellular representation of the learning process. The substrate of learning is the synapse, and learning leads to changes in the strength of synaptic connections. These studies found that short-term memory is mediated by a transient synaptic facilitation of pre-existing connections due to covalent modification of pre-existing proteins, whereas long-term memory results from a persistent facilitation mediated by transcription and synaptic growth. The critical transcriptional switch that converts short-term to long-term facilitation and long-term memory in Aplysia is mediated by the removal of the repressive step of CREB-2 and the activation of CREB-1. Because small RNAs are important in transcriptional control and post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression, Dr. Kandel and his group wondered whether they might also regulate this key transcriptional switch from short-term to long-term memory. Together with collaborators, Dr.

Experiences, Including Learning and Drug Use, Leave Genetic Marks on Brain Behavior—Neuroscience 2013

New human and animal research released today demonstrates how experiences impact genes that influence behavior and health. Today’s studies, presented at a press conference of Neuroscience 2013, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health, provide new insights into how experience might produce long-term brain changes in behaviors like drug addiction and memory formation. 30,000 scientists are attending this meeting in San Diego. Years of heroin abuse may change how genes are expressed and how the brain functions, according to new human research described today in a news conference organized by the Society of Neuroscience. The studies focus on an area of research called epigenetics, in which the environment and experiences can turn genes “on” or “off,” while keeping underlying DNA intact. These changes affect normal brain processes, such as development or memory, and abnormal brain processes, such as depression, drug dependence, and other psychiatric disease — and can be passed down to subsequent generations. According to the World Health Organization, 9.5 million people abuse heroin around the world, which increases their risk of death by 20 to 30 times compared to that of non-drug users. “Our study addresses a critical gap in our knowledge about heroin addiction because we cannot often directly study the brains of addicted humans,” said senior author Yasmin Hurd, Ph.D., of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. “Our results provide important insights into how human brains change in response to long-term heroin use, and give us to knowledge to help treat this dangerous disease.” Dr.

Absence of Specific Serotonin Receptor During Development Linked to Aggression and Impulsivity in Adults—Neuroscience 2013

Blocking serotonin receptors during development results in highly aggressive and impulsive behavior, according to new animal research. Reintroducing the receptors in adulthood suppresses impulsivity, but not aggression, to normal levels. These and related findings were described during a press conference on Sunday, November 10, 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 convention in San Diego. Previous studies have identified a link between low serotonin levels and impulsive, violent aggression. However, therapeutic treatments that used antidepressants to increase serotonin generally did not reduce the negative behaviors. New research, led by Katherine Nautiyal, Ph.D., from Columbia University, identified a specific serotonin receptor (5-HT1B)(see image) as a key factor in aggressive and impulsive behaviors. Mice lacking this receptor during development exhibited more frequent and intense fighting than did control mice. They were also more impulsive in neutral situations, more vulnerable to abusing drugs, and demonstrated less restraint, even when rewarded to do so. Understanding the impact of changes in specific prefrontal regions during brain development could lead to new treatments and earlier interventions for disorders in which impulsivity plays a key factor. The research may have implications for understanding and dealing with aggressive and troublesome behaviors. The new findings show that: the absence of serotonin receptors during early development leads to highly aggressive and impulsive behaviors in mice.

November 10th

Blood-Clotting Protein May Offer Early Detection of Multiple Sclerosis—Neuroscience 2013

A protein involved in blood clotting may be a new indicator to help detect multiple sclerosis (MS) lesions before symptoms arise. The presence of the clotting protein, thrombin, signals an early stage of the disease when the blood-brain barrier is breached and the brain’s immune response is set into motion. The research was 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. “Our research shows this indicator is a promising approach for detecting MS-like lesions early, even before major symptoms appear,” said senior author Katerina Akassoglou, Ph.D., of the Gladstone Institutes and the University of California, San Francisco. “Such sensitive indicators could act as red flags that signal neuroinflammatory changes in the brain not only in MS, but also in other diseases such as Alzheimer’s.” MS is a debilitating disorder that can be intermittent or progressive, and causes numbness, fatigue, difficulty walking, paralysis, and loss of vision in 2 million people worldwide. MS arises when the body’s immune system attacks its own myelin sheaths, the protective coverings that surround neurons and allow signals to move from one cell to the next. The researchers found that thrombin, usually a beneficial protein involved in blood clotting, builds up in the central nervous system as MS progresses. Thrombin enters in the brain together with fibrinogen, another clotting protein when the protective barrier between the blood and brain becomes leaky. Thrombin converts the fibrinogen to fibrin which activates brain’s immune cells that break down the protective myelin sheath that surrounds neurons in the central nervous system.

Dendritic-Cell-Derived Exosomes As Possible Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis--Neuroscience 2013

Currently, no multiple sclerosis (MS) treatments promote remyelination. Richard Kraig, M.D., Ph.D., Professor in Neurosciences and Director of the Migraine Headache Clinic at the University of Chicago Medicine, described to the press on Sunday, May 10, at the Society for Neuroscience 2013 meeting in San Diego, his group’s new work showing that dendritic cells, a type of immune cell present in blood, can be cultured from bone marrow and stimulated to release small particles called exosomes (see image). When administered to the brain, these exosomes significantly increase myelination and improve remyelination following a demyelinating injury, like that caused by MS. MS is an inflammatory disease involving oligodendrocyte loss, demyelination, and failure to remyelinate damaged brain areas. Oligodendrocytes in the central nervous system produce myelin, the insulation surrounding axons, which is necessary for neuronal signaling. Damage to oligodendrocytes and demyelination — loss of this insulation — can lead to severe neurological disability. Remyelination is a spontaneously occurring repair process mediated by recruitment of oligodendrocyte precursor cells to damaged areas. Their subsequent differentiation into mature oligodendrocytes is capable of replacing lost myelin. Initially, MS patients follow a relapsing-remitting disease course, characterized by periods of partial recovery associated with incomplete remyelination. However, over time this ability to repair declines and patients develop a secondary-progressive, steadily worsening disease course. With over 400,000 people currently suffering from MS in the United States, it is a significant and devastating healthcare burden.

Scientists Unveil New Understanding, Warning Signs, and Potential Treatments for Multiple Sclerosis--Neurocience 2013

Scientists are gaining a new level of understanding of multiple sclerosis (MS) that may lead to new treatments and approaches to controlling the chronic disease, according to new research released in San Diego on Sunday, November 10, 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. Approximately 30,000 scientists are attending this year’s meeting. MS is a severe, often crippling, autoimmune disease caused by the body’s immune system attacking the nervous system. Today, more than two million people worldwide suffer from MS and other neuroinflammatory diseases. MS usually strikes in early adulthood and manifests with symptoms including vision loss, paralysis, numbness, and fatigue. The disease can be intermittent or progressive and currently has no cure. Today’s new findings show that: scientists are one step closer to understanding how antibodies in the blood stream break past the brain’s protective barrier to attack the optic nerves, spinal cord, and brain, causing the symptoms of neuromyelitis optica, a rare disease similar to MS. Understanding how the antibodies bypass the protective blood-brain barrier could provide new approaches to treating the disease (Yukio Takeshita, M.D., Ph.D., abstract 404.09); a protein involved in blood clotting might serve as an early detection method for MS before symptoms occur. Early detection of the disease could lead to more effective early treatments (Katerina Akassoglou, Ph.D., abstract 404.11); low levels of a cholesterol protein correlate with the severity of a patient’s MS in both human patients and mouse models. The finding suggests the protein, known to protect against inflammation, may protect against developing MS, and possibly even aid in the regeneration of damaged neurons.

Research Reveals Positive Roles for Exercise, Diet, and Meditation in Aging and Depression—Neuroscience 2013

New studies released on Sunday, November 10, 2013, underscore the potential impact of healthy lifestyle choices in treating depression, the effects of aging, and learning. The research focused on the effects of mind/body awareness, exercise, and diet, and was presented in San Diego 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. The 2013 meeting is being attended by approximately 30,000 scientists. The experiences and choices people make throughout life actively impact the brain. As humans live longer, these choices also affect aging and quality of life. Lifestyle changes to diet and exercise will be important to aging populations as non-drug, easy-to-follow interventions with few side effects, making ideal potential therapies. Today’s new findings show that: as few as 12 consecutive days of exercise in aging rats helps preserve and improve movement function, an effect possibly caused by changes in dopamine levels. The results suggest that exercise could stave off or reverse the slowed movements that are hallmarks of age (Jennifer Arnold, abstract 334.02); practices like yoga or meditation that increase mind/body awareness help people learn a brain-computer interface quicker. This finding may have implications for those who need brain-computer interfaces to function, such as people with paralysis (Bin He, Ph.D., abstract 16.06); long-term exercise in aging rats improves memory function, as well as increases the number of blood vessels in the white matter of their brains — the tracts that carry information between different areas of the brain.

Lumosity Presents New Data on Measuring Cognitive Training Improvements--Neuroscience 2013

Lumosity, the online cognitive training and neuroscience research company, is presenting today, at the annual 2013 Society for Neuroscience meeting, data on its set of online neuropsychological battery of assessments, the Brain Performance Test (BPT). The poster presentation titled, "Measuring Training-Related Changes in Cognitive Performance with a Repeatable Online Assessment Battery," examined the reliability of the BPT and the variability in training dose and improvement. The study found that the BPT is a reliable assessment, and that larger doses of cognitive training are associated with greater improvements on the BPT. The study also found that training gains were more strongly predictive of improvements on the assessment battery than the training dose alone.,"We created the Brain Performance Test with the goal of improving the way we measure the transfer effects of cognitive training to other tasks and real-world outcomes," said Daniel Sternberg, Ph.D., Data Scientist at Lumosity and lead author of the study. "These results are interesting because they demonstrate that training gains are a powerful predictor of transfer – replicating previous findings from other labs, but in a much larger sample." The study included a final sample of 5,870 participants between the ages of 15-75 who took the pre-test and post-test at least 70 days apart. The study found that those who trained more than the median participants — approximately 10.5 hours over a 10-week period — saw increases in improvements on core cognitive abilities compared to those who trained less. Current ongoing research using the BPT includes a randomized controlled study, multiple studies comparing the effects of different training programs on training improvements, and assessment validation studies.