The brain looks like a featureless expanse of folds and bulges, but it’s actually carved up into invisible territories. Each is specialized: Some groups of neurons become active when we recognize faces, others when we read, others when we raise our hands.
On Wednesday, in what many experts are calling a milestone in neuroscience, researchers published a spectacular new map of the brain, detailing nearly 100 previously unknown regions — an unprecedented glimpse into the machinery of the human mind.
Scientists will rely on this guide as they attempt to understand virtually every aspect of the brain, from how it develops in children and ages over decades, to how it can be corrupted by diseases like Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia.
Read at NYT
For thousands of years, stories have been told through the pages of a book. But with the advent of new technologies, the ways humans communicate their memories, discoveries, recipes, and life lessons have increasingly been captured and retold through a variety of mediums, one of the most revolutionary being the television. In the years since 1927, when the first TV set flickered to life before viewers’ eyes, what have we learned about its effects on the human brain? Are we better or worse off with visual storytelling?
Researchers have devoted innumerable hours to studying how TV affects our brains differently than reading. The prevalence of smartphones, tablets, e-readers, and computers has added new meaning to the term “screen time,” and scientists are still working to compile a growing body of research to untangle the copious ways in which storytelling affects our brain’s neural pathways, both in the short run and permanently.
“At a minimum, we can say that reading stories reconfigures brain networks for at least a few days. It shows how stories can stay with us. This may have profound implications for children and the role of reading in shaping their brains.”
Read at Medical Daily
They can measure pressure, temperature, and much more before being safely absorbed into the body.
“I just took out a bullet from the back of a guy’s head an hour ago,” says Rory Murphy.
As a neurosurgeon at the Washington University School of Medicine, Murphy “deals with brain trauma all the time.” Between bullets, blunt forces, and blood clots, traumatic brain injuries kill around 50,000 people in the United States every year. These kinds of injuries often cause the brain to swell, which constricts the flow of blood and oxygen, and can lead to permanent damage. So surgeons like Murphy need reliable ways of monitoring the pressure inside their patients’ skulls. Sensors exist, but they are large, clunky, and must be removed once the patient has recovered.
Together with a team of engineers, Murphy is developing a better option: a dissolvable pressure sensor. Thinner than the tip of a needle, it can be left in a patient’s brain to take accurate readings for several days, before completely disappearing. You don’t need to remove them because there’s nothing to remove. They just get absorbed into the body.
Link to full article at The Atlantic
CHICAGO — Days after a Phase I clinical trial studying an experimental fatty acid amide hydrolase inhibitor being developed by Portugal-based Bial-Portela left one patient dead and five others hospitalized in France, there are still numerous unanswered questions, but perhaps most importantly—what went wrong?
FAAH inhibitors are designed to break down endocannabinoids, including anandamide, in the brain and are being investigated for use in the treatment of chronic pain. These molecules activate cannabinoid receptors—the same ones that bind THC, the key component of cannabis, report in Science magazine said. Bial’s BIA 10-2474, the drug tested in the French facility, is designed to inhibit FAAH, and thus slow the breakdown of endogenous cannabinoids, which might help fight pain, the magazine said.
Link to full story at BioSpace
High-Fat Diet Prompts Immune Cells To Start Eating Connections Between Neurons
AUGUSTA, Ga. – When a high-fat diet causes us to become obese, it also appears to prompt normally bustling immune cells in our brain to become sedentary and start consuming the connections between our neurons, scientists say.
The good news is going back on a low-fat diet for just two months, at least in mice, reverses this trend of shrinking cognitive ability as weight begins to normalize, said Dr. Alexis M. Stranahan, neuroscientist in the Department of Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine at the Medical College of Georgia.
Link to article
A 3D-printed model of the blood vessels inside a woman’s brain has helped surgeons practise life-saving surgery.
The surgeons needed to operate to correct a weakness, or aneurysm, in a blood vessel inside the patient’s head.
Scans of the aneurysm revealed that the usual approach surgeons would take to fix it would not have worked.
3D printing is increasingly finding a role in medicine to either help doctors prepare before carrying out procedures or to make prosthetics.
After suffering vision problems and recurrent headaches, New York state resident Theresa Flint was diagnosed with an aneurysm that, if left untreated, would have proved fatal.
An aneurysm is a bulging blood vessel caused by a weakness in an artery wall that risks rupturing.
The usual way to treat such problems is to implant a metallic basket that strengthens the artery wall, said Dr Adnan Siddiqui, chief medical officer at the Jacobs Institute in Buffalo, New York, who directed the treatment.
Link to full article
Our brains not only contain learning mechanisms but also forgetting mechanisms that erase “unnecessary” learning. A research group at Lund University in Sweden has now been able to describe one of these mechanisms at the cellular level.
The group’s results, published in the international journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), explain a theoretical learning phenomenon which has so far been difficult to understand.
The premise is that human or animal subjects can learn to associate a certain tone or light signal with a puff of air to the eye. The air puff makes the subject blink, and eventually they blink as soon as they hear the tone or see the light signal. The strange thing, however, is that if the tone and the light are presented together (and with the air puff), the learning does not improve, but gets worse.
Link to BioSpace article
What can neuroscientists learn from the masters and other artists?
Eric Altschuler has been staring at mirrors. Specifically, those of van Eyck, Caravaggio, Parmigianino, Escher, and other painters. The Temple University professor and his colleague V.S. Ramachandran of the University of California, San Diego, are on the hunt for novel ways that artists have presented reflections, as a means of seeking out potentially new modes of therapy.
Ramachandran and Altschuler have pioneered methods of using a mirror to alleviate phantom limb pain and other conditions. A patient sits at the side of the mirror with, say, his right arm reflected in front of the glass. The patient peeks around the corner to view the reflection as if he were looking at his left arm—a setup Ramachandran and Altschuler call the parasagittal reflection.
Link to article on The Scientist
When science journalist Carl Zimmerwrote a 2010 article in Discover magazine about English neurologist Adam Zeman’s case study of a man who couldn’t visualize people or things, the professor was approached by 21 people who saw themselves in the article and wanted to learn more. Now Zeman and colleagues at the University of Exeter Medical School are reporting in the journal Cortex that the condition could affect as many as 2.5% of the population. They’re calling it “aphantasia,” though Zeman insists in an interview with the BBC that it is not a disorder but rather a “variability of human experience” where most of us “spend our lives with imagery hovering somewhere in the mind’s eye, which we inspect from time to time.” Says one man of his childhood insomnia: “I couldn’t see any sheep jumping over fences, there was nothing to count.”
Link to article
A walk in the park may soothe the mind and, in the process, change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our mental health, according to an interesting new study of the physical effects on the brain of visiting nature.
Most of us today live in cities and spend far less time outside in green, natural spaces than people did several generations ago.
City dwellers also have a higher risk for anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses than people living outside urban centers, studies show.
These developments seem to be linked to some extent, according to a growing body of research. Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.
Link to full article on New York Times