For years, the brain of a child with autism has been a mystery. Doctors and parents wondered about the cause of autism, and it seemed that they would never get those answers. Autism is characterized on a spectrum with various expressions of difficulty with social interaction including difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication. Children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder, the official title of ‘autism’ after the May 2013 publication of the DSM-5) are associated with difficulties with motor coordination, attention, intellectual disabilities, and physical health problems like sleep and gastrointestinal problems. Autism is usually presented by age three and the process of diagnosing autism continues to change, according to the Autism Speaks foundation.
Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of NIMH at the NIH says that “while autism is generally considered a developmental brain disorder, research has not identified a consistent or causative lesion.” The newest reports show that the architecture of the autistic brain is “speckled with patches of abnormal neurons.” In the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, there is evidence that the brain irregularities of children with autism are due to abnormal prenatal development.
For years doctors have been able to detect the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease through scans, lumbar punctures, and genetic testing. While these methods can be painful or expensive, a new blood test has recently been discovered that can easily and accurately predict the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Doctor Howard J. Federoff of Georgetown University Medical Center conducted a research study in which he took blood samples from hundreds of healthy, elderly men and women over the age of 70. Over the next five years, some of these healthy individuals developed Mild Cognitive Impairment or Alzheimer’s Disease. Federoff then compared their blood samples to the samples of the healthy individuals. He found a group of ten lipids, or fats, that were present in lower amounts in the blood samples of the participants who had developed Alzheimer’s Disease.
We all know that sleep is one of the best ways to restore our body. For example, when we become sick, we just lie in bed and sleep all day; or after a long day bustling between class, the gym, meetings, and extracurricular activities, our body yearns to fall into a deep slumber to restore itself to its peak state. Recently, it was published that the reason sleep is so restorative is because while we sleep, cerebrospinal fluid flows more efficiently through the brain, essentially “clearing” the brain of any metabolic waste products that build up during the day (for more on this, refer to the December 9th blog post). However, just as we all understand that great feeling of satisfaction that comes after the so rarely obtained 8-9 hour sleep cycle (yes, young college-aged adults should ideally be getting 8-9 hours of sleep a night), we also can all relate to the groggy, confused, cognitively impaired state that comes after the all-night cramming and three hours of sleep, and before the double espresso from Starbucks. Until recently, this chronic state of unrest considered normal by college students, shift workers, and truck drivers, wasn’t thought to have any long lasting damage; it was considered common knowledge that catching up on sleep during weekends or vacations made up for the hours of sleep lost during finals week. However, a new study published on March 18th in the Journal of Neuroscience refutes this; the study, out of University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, shows that chronic sleep loss may be much more destructive than previously thought, leading to permanent cell damage and neuronal death.
How many times have you not completed the reading assignment for you systems physiology class because you ran out of time? How many times have you attempted to use speed reading techniques like not subvocalizing, or talking to yourself as you read? A new Boston-based start-up claims to have solved the ‘slow reader’ problem and promises 600 words per minute for all.
One must be skeptical when approaching the front line technologies, as it is easy to be convinced that people have invented what you desire. For instance, when Tony Hawk promotes a brand “hoverboard” technology, Back to the Future fans went berserk. However, Spritz is a bit more open about the actual science behind their product.
Brain Signals from One Primate Move Paralyzed Limbs in Another Primate
Researchers from Cornell’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Harvard Medical School’s Department of Neurosurgery have developed a new neural prosthetic that uses neural activity recorded from premotor neurons to control limb movements in functionally paralyzed primates. This is a step toward making brain-machine interfaces for paralyzed humans to control their own limbs using just their brain activity. Previous research has been limited to controlling external devices such as robotic limbs.
It would make sense for kissing to be favorable for evolution if it led to increased arousal and consequently a greater inclination to have sex. When a (heterosexual) couple is kissing, testosterone can pass from the man’s mouth to the woman’s, which may make her more receptive to sex (and the passing on of their genes). But it turns out that though people certainly kiss when they’re aroused, there’s not much evidence to suggest that it works the other way around, where kissing causes arousal. And though some other species such as bonobo monkeys also kiss, it doesn’t have quite the same association with sex as it does for other humans. This suggests that there are other factors at play than just the initiation of play time.
Ever wonder why children can learn certain things, such as languages, faster than adults? There is a time in every human’s life called the critical period, and it takes place during the most intense period of development, childhood. During this time a child’s brain has high neuroplasticity, almost like a sponge. Many new pathways are formed as the child experiences new things. It has always been believed that when our critical period ends it never comes back but recent study has been done with the drug Valproate that increased neural plasticity in adults and may have reopened this critical period.
Valproate is a drug most commonly used for bipolar disorder and epilepsy. It is also known to inhibit an enzyme called histone- deacetylase, or HDAC. HDAC is an enzyme in the brain that slows down neural plasticity. Inhibition of this enzyme by Valproate allows the reopening of pathways in the brain, increasing neuroplasticity, thus reopening the critical period.
As an international student living in the U.S., one always misses their native country. Whether it be the food, the house, the parents or the friends, homesickness is a normal feeling. As strange as it may seem, my dog Baco is who I miss the most. Baco is a 3-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback. For those non-dog lovers out there, a Rhodesian Ridgeback is quite frankly the most beautiful, loyal breed of dog (no exaggeration). Baco has been like my fourth brother ever since my actual brother brought him home as a puppy. Together with my brother, we raised him since he was no more than 5 kilos (that is about 11 pounds for those who do not understand the metric system). Today, Baco stands at about 66 cm tall (about 2 feet) and weighs about 34 kilos (75 pounds). You might be wondering why I am bragging about how great my dog is in a neuroscience blog. Well, in the past few years, some very interesting research about the canine brain has been done…
I have always wondered if Baco truly loves me or if he just acts as though he loved me in order to get food. Like me, I imagine there are millions of dog owners who may ask themselves the same question. Interestingly enough, one such dog owner is recognized neuroeconomist and neuroscientist, Gregory S. Berns. Professor Berns and his team have been studying the dog brain for a while now, and there research has been nothing short of extraordinary. I found out about this research by reading Berns´ book, “How Dogs Love Us.” Of course I want everyone who reads this article to read that book so I will try not to spoil it for you.
Recently, The Atlantic posted an article relating the growing field of neuroscience to international negotiations, specifically those surrounding the Iranian nuclear negotiations. Co-written by a neuroscientist and an expert in international relations, the article prompted a rather stern and testy response from Christian Jarrett, a science writer for Wired, yet he brings up some excellent points. Before continuing, I urge you to read The Atlantic‘s article here.
Although it may be well-intentioned, it appears that The Atlantic ’s article is little more than an attempt to grab headlines and call more attention to the piece, riding the hype trains of two popular subjects. While it appears that applying concepts from neuroscience to news and international negotiations might be something that can contribute to our understanding, realistically it only serves to dilute the field. At best, it is a misguided attempt at connections between fields. At worst, it is another example of today’s journalism: lazy and prone to clickbait.
Most people are familiar with the idea that people who are blind have better hearing than those with normal vision. It was formerly thought that this compensation for lack of vision could only develop in the brains of the very young. However, new research conducted at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University suggests that the brain may be more flexible than previously believed.
In the study, researchers kept one group of healthy mice in total darkness for a week, and exposed the other group to natural light for a week. Then the team used electrodes to measure activity in neurons in the mice’s primary auditory cortex. This is the part of the brain that processes how loud a sound is and its source. By analyzing this data, researchers found that the mice who were exposed to a week of darkness had much better hearing than the control mice.
This suggests that the circuits that process sensory information can be re-wired in the brains of adult mice, even after the early critical period for hearing. These findings seem to contradict the idea that once the critical period for hearing is past, the auditory system doesn’t respond to changes in an individual’s soundscape.