Making Temporary Changes to Brain Could Speed up Learning, Study Reports

In a breakthrough that may aid treatment of learning impairments, strokes, tinnitus and chronic pain, UT Dallas researchers have found that brain stimulation accelerates learning in laboratory tests.

Another major finding of the study, published in the April 14 issue of Neuron, involved tracking the changes detected after stimulation and learning were complete. Researchers monitoring brain activity in rats found that brain responses eventually returned to their pre-stimulation state, but the animals could still perform the learned task. These findings have allowed researchers to better understand how the brain learns and encodes new skills. Continue reading “Making Temporary Changes to Brain Could Speed up Learning, Study Reports”

Neuroscientists discover new ‘chemical pathway’ in the brain for stress

A team of neuroscientists at the University of Leicester, UK, in collaboration with researchers from Poland and Japan, has announced a breakthrough in the understanding of the ‘brain chemistry’ that triggers our response to highly stressful and traumatic events.

The discovery of a critical and previously unknown pathway in the brain that is linked to our response to stress is announced today in the journal Nature. The advance offers new hope for targeted treatment, or even prevention, of stress-related psychiatric disorders.

Caption: Newly discovered neurochemical cascade promoting stress-induced anxiety. Neuropsin interacts with cell membrane proteins NMDA and EphB2 to induce expression of the Fkbp5 gene.

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Researchers map functional connections between retinal neurons at single-cell resolution

By comparing a clearly defined visual input with the electrical output of the retina, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies were able to trace for the first time the neuronal circuitry that connects individual photoreceptors with retinal ganglion cells, the neurons that carry visual signals from the eye to the brain.

Their measurements, published in the Oct. 7, 2010, issue of the journal Nature, not only reveal computations in a neural circuit at the elementary resolution of individual neurons but also shed light on the neural code used by the retina to relay color information to the brain.

photoreceptors

New genes suggest obesity is in your head, not your gut

A genetic study of more than 90,000 people has identified six new genetic variants that are associated with increased Body Mass Index (BMI), the most commonly used measure of obesity. Five of the genes are known to be active in the brain, suggesting that many genetic variants implicated in obesity might affect behaviour, rather than the chemical processes of energy or fat metabolism.

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Groups of neurons in the brain rewire by changing images

Neuroscientists studying the mind’s ability to process images have completed the first empirical study to demonstrate, using animal models, how populations of nerve cells in visual cortex adapt to changing images. Their findings could lead to sight-improving therapies for people following trauma or stroke. The study at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston appears in the March 13 issue of the journal Nature.

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Fascinating split brain behavioral experiments

To reduce the severity of his seizures, Joe had the bridge between his left and right cerebral hemisphers (the corpus callosum) severed. As a result, his left and right brains no longer communicate through that pathway. This is an extraordinary insight into the machinary of the mind. Here’s what happens as a result:

What gives us fingertip dexterity?

In a novel experiment, a USC biomedical engineer examines the intricate circuitry between hand manipulation skills and specialized neural circuits in the brain

Quickly moving your fingertips to tap or press a surface is essential for everyday life to, say, pick up small objects, use a BlackBerry or an iPhone. But researchers at the University of Southern California say that this seemingly trivial action is the result of a complex neuro-motor-mechanical process orchestrated with precision timing by the brain, nervous system and muscles of the hand

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Creative and noncreative problem solvers exhibit different patterns of brain activity

Why do some people solve problems more creatively than others? Are people who think creatively somehow different from those who tend to think in a more methodical fashion?

These questions are part of a long-standing debate, with some researchers arguing that what we call “creative thought” and “noncreative thought” are not basically different. If this is the case, then people who are thought of as creative do not really think in a fundamentally different way from those who are thought of as noncreative. On the other side of this debate, some researchers have argued that creative thought is fundamentally different from other forms of thought. If this is true, then those who tend to think creatively really are somehow different.
Continue reading “Creative and noncreative problem solvers exhibit different patterns of brain activity”

New MIT tool probes brain circuits

Researchers at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT report in the Jan. 24 online edition of Science that they have created a way to see, for the first time, the effect of blocking and unblocking a single neural circuit in a living animal.

This revolutionary method allowed Susumu Tonegawa, Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience, and colleagues to see how bypassing a major memory-forming circuit in the brain affected learning and memory in mice.

mouse hippocampus

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Scientists restore walking after spinal cord injury

Spinal cord damage blocks the routes that the brain uses to send messages to the nerve cells that control walking. Until now, doctors believed that the only way for injured patients to walk again was to re-grow the long nerve highways that link the brain and base of the spinal cord. For the first time, a UCLA study shows that the central nervous system can reorganize itself and follow new pathways to restore the cellular communication required for movement.

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Scientists find that culture influences brain function

People from different cultures use their brains differently to solve the same visual perceptual tasks, MIT researchers and colleagues report in the first brain imaging study of its kind.

Psychological research has established that American culture, which values the individual, emphasizes the independence of objects from their contexts, while East Asian societies emphasize the collective and the contextual interdependence of objects. Behavioral studies have shown that these cultural differences can influence memory and even perception. But are they reflected in brain activity patterns”

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Monkeys can perform mental addition

Researchers at Duke University have demonstrated that monkeys have the ability to perform mental addition. In fact, monkeys performed about as well as college students given the same test.

The findings shed light on the shared evolutionary origins of arithmetic ability in humans and non-human animals, according to Assistant Professor Elizabeth Brannon, Ph.D. and Jessica Cantlon, Ph.D., of the Duke Center for Cognitive Neuroscience.

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Novel mechanism for long-term learning identified

Practice makes perfect — or at least that’s what we’re told as we struggle through endless rounds of multiplication tables, goal kicks and piano scales — and it seems, based on the personal experience of many, to be true. That’s why neuroscientists have been perplexed by data showing that at the level of individual synapses, or connections between neurons, increased, repetitive stimulation might actually reverse early gains in synaptic strength. Now, neuroscientists from Carnegie Mellon University and the Max Planck Institute have discovered the mechanism that resolves this apparent paradox. The findings are published in the Jan. 4 issue of Science.

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Diet of Walnuts, blueberries found to improve cognition; may help maintain brain function and treat brain disorders

Junk food junkies take notice. What you eat does more than influence your gut. It also may affect your brain. Increasing evidence shows that mom was right: You should eat your vegetables, and your blueberries and walnuts, too.

Scientists are confirming that this age-old adage is worth following. And new studies show that diet may have implications for those who suffer from certain brain ailments.

Diets containing two percent, six percent, or nine percent walnuts, when given to old rats, were found to reverse several parameters of brain aging, as well as age-related motor and cognitive deficits, says James Joseph, PhD, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center at Tufts University in Boston.
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Scientists have developed a way to operate machines only by thoughts

Neuroscientists have significantly advanced brain-machine interface (BMI) technology to the point where severely handicapped people who cannot contract even one leg or arm muscle now can independently compose and send e-mails and operate a TV in their homes. They are using only their thoughts to execute these actions.

Thanks to the rapid pace of research on the BMI, one day these and other individuals may be able to feed themselves with a robotic arm and hand that moves according to their mental commands.
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Enzymes Key To Brainpower Identified

Bolstering disintegrating neural connections may help boost brainpower in Alzheimer’s disease patients, MIT researchers and colleagues will report in the Nov. 8 issue of Neuron.

The researchers zeroed in on the enzymes that manipulate a key scaffolding protein for synapses, the connections through which brain cells communicate. Synapses are weakened and lost in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
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Research shows the brain’s processing speed is significantly faster than real time

Scientists at The University of Arizona have added another piece of the puzzle of how the brain processes memory.

Bruce McNaughton, a professor of psychology and physiology, and his colleague David Euston have shown that, during sleep, the reactivated memories of real-time experiences are processed within the brain at a higher rate of speed. That rate can be as much as six or seven times faster, and what McNaughton calls “thought speed.”
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Researchers take first steps towards spinal cord reconstruction following injury

A new study has identified what may be a pivotal first step towards the regeneration of nerve cells following spinal cord injury, using the body’s own stem cells.

This seminal study, published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, identifies key elements in the body’s reaction to spinal injury, critical information that could lead to novel therapies for repairing previously irreversible nerve damage in the injured spinal cord.

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Sleep-deprivation causes an emotional brain ‘disconnect’

Without sleep, the emotional centers of the brain dramatically overreact to negative experiences, reveals a new brain imaging study in the October 23rd issue of Current Biology, a publication of Cell Press. The reason for that hyperactive emotional response in sleep-deprived people stems from a shutdown of the prefrontal lobe—a region that normally keeps emotions under control.

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Out-of-body experience recreated

Experts have found a way to trigger an out-of-body experience in volunteers. The experiments, described in the Science journal, offer a scientific explanation for a phenomenon experienced by one in 10 people.

Two teams used virtual reality goggles to con the brain into thinking the body was located elsewhere.The visual illusion plus the feel of their real bodies being touched made volunteers sense that they had moved outside of their physical bodies. 

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Brain imaging reveals breakdown of normal emotional processing

 Brain imaging has revealed a breakdown in normal patterns of emotional processing that impairs the ability of people with clinical depression to suppress negative emotional states. Efforts by depressed patients to suppress their feelings when viewing emotionally negative images enhanced activity in several brain areas, including the amygdala, known to play a role in generating emotion, according to a report in the August 15 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

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Brain as memory machine

What happens in our brains when we learn and remember” Are memories recorded in a stable physical change, like writing an inscription permanently on a clay tablet” Prof. Yadin Dudai, Head of the Weizmann Institute’s Neurobiology Department, and his colleagues are challenging that view. They recently discovered that the process of storing long-term memories is much more dynamic, involving a miniature molecular machine that must run constantly to keep memories going. They also found that jamming the machine briefly can erase long-term memories. Their findings, which appeared today in the journal Science, may pave the way to future treatments for memory problems.

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