Thursday, June 24, 2010

Does a Mind Need a Brain?

In a 2001 study, 4 out of 63 cardiac arrest survivors were found to have had near death experiences while exhibiting at least two of the three criteria for clinical death.
Does consciousness exist independently of the brain? Do people have experiences at times when their brains are clinically dead, which they can remember later, so-called “near death experiences” (NDEs)?

If so, how often? What kinds of experiences? Can these experiences be attributed to physiological or pharmacological processes that accompany dying, or to psychological responses to the threat of death, or are they experiences of a reality that transcends the limitations of the flesh body?

In 2001, a small group of British scientists published a pilot prospective study to assess the frequency and possible causes of NDEs in survivors of cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest survivors were good models for this type of study because they were all resuscitated using a standard procedure and thus all received the same drugs and treatments.

These patients all exhibited at least two of the three criteria for pronouncing a person dead: They had no cardiac output and no spontaneous respiration. In the clinical setting, most of these patients also developed the third characteristic, fixed dilated pupils, as a result of loss of brainstem activity.

Extensive physiological and pharmacological measurements were recorded for all of these patients in the course of their stay in the hospital. Over the course of a year, all cardiac arrest survivors at Southampton General Hospital were identified and interviewed during their stay in the hospital, after the usual safeguards for the protection of research subjects and the integrity of the study had been carried out.

The patients were asked an open-ended question about whether they had any memories about the time when they were unconscious. The experiences of those who reported any memories at all were assessed according to the Greyson standardized scale and divided into the NDE study group and the non-NDE control group.

Of the 63 cardiac arrest survivors interviewed, 56 (88.8 percent) had no memory of their period of unconsciousness. Seven had at least some memory and, of these, four (6.3 percent) had experiences that met the Greyson criteria for NDEs.

Of the three who did not satisfy the criteria, two reported at least one feature consistent with NDEs. Of the four patients in the NDE group, all reported coming to a point of no return. Three of the four also remembered seeing a bright light and feelings of peace, pleasantness, and joy. Half of the four saw deceased relatives, entered a new domain, felt that time had speeded up, lost awareness of their bodies, experienced harmony, and had heightened senses.

None of the patients found their experiences to be traumatic or distressing; rather, they were described as pleasant. None of these patients experienced the out-of-body state.

The patient whose experiences scored highest on the Greyson scale was a male who said he was a nonpracticing Catholic and a Pagan. The other three patients in the NDE group were nonpracticing Church of England females.

Possible physiological causative factors could not be adequately investigated in this pilot study because of the small numbers of patients in the groups. In light of the frequently advanced explanation that NDEs result from oxygen deprivation of the brain, it is interesting to note that the patients in the NDE study group actually had higher oxygen levels than the control group.

The exact time when the experiences were undergone was difficult to pinpoint in this study. The data supports the surprising conclusion that NDEs arise during the unconscious period, when the brain is so dysfunctional that the patient is deeply comatose and the cerebral structures usually thought necessary for subjective experience and memory are severely impaired.

If the NDE arose during the period when consciousness was being lost, it would have been joined in memory with ongoing mental experiences at the beginning of the episode, but none of the subjects reported that. Experiences that occur during recovery of consciousness are confusional, but these were not. These subjects had lucid memories with highly structured, narrative, easily recalled and clear features, unlike confusional hallucinations.

None of the subjects reported out-of-body experiences, although they are a relatively common feature of retrospective studies. The scientists had prepared to test any such reports by suspending special boards from the ceilings of the wards before the commencement of the study. These boards had special figures on the surface facing the ceilings that were not visible from below.

If anyone claimed to have left his or her body and was near the ceiling, that person would be expected to be able to identify the markings if he or she had indeed been out-of-body. If the perception was psychological in origin, then one would not expect the markings to be identified.

In this study, the scientists provided evidence that NDEs among survivors of cardiac arrest are relatively rare and that they probably occur during periods when the brain is nonfunctional. Of the memories that do occur during this “unconscious” period, the majority have at least some features of NDEs.

Clearly, a much larger prospective study, probably including multiple institutions, would have to be conducted to have enough subjects so that the psychological, the transcendent, and the physiological aspects of these experiences can be studied more adequately.

After the research paper was published, Dr. Sam Parnia, lead author of the study, told Reuters that he and his colleagues have found more than 3,500 people with lucid memories of experiences that apparently occurred when they were clinically dead.

One patient was only 2-1/2 years old when he had a seizure-induced cardiac arrest. His parents said the boy “drew a picture of himself as if out of his body looking down at himself.”

“It was drawn like there was a balloon stuck to him. When they asked what the balloon was, he said, ‘When you die you see a bright light and you are connected to a cord.’” For six months after he had been discharged from the hospital, the boy kept drawing that same scene.

Parnia speculated that human consciousness may work independently of the brain, using it as a mechanism to manifest thoughts, much as a television set translates the signal that comes through the ether into pictures and sounds.

Science Finds Courage In The Human Brain

Science Finds Courage In The Human Brain
General George Patton said that "Courage is fear holding on a minute longer." Now scientists may have found a way to stimulate courage, pinpointing the portion of the brain that helps humans conquer their fears.

Snakes - why is it always snakes?
A team of researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, led by Dr. Yadin Dudai took a group of volunteers and separated them into two groups - those afraid of snakes, and those not afraid of snakes.
The only reason science ever needs a group of people who are afraid of something is when they plan on torturing them mercilessly with the object they fear.
In this instance, each volunteer was presented with an adorable toy bear and a harmless but terrifying American corn snake. While scanning their brains using an MRI, the volunteers were given the choice to move either the snake or the bear closer or farther away.
If this were me, I'd be cuddling the toy bear in seconds flat.
But many of the volunteers for this test were made of sterner stuff, and when one overcame their fear and urged the snake forward, their brains reacted.
The researchers noted that when a test subject displayed courage, the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC) of their brain lit up like a Christmas tree. Subjects who succumbed to their fear and pushed the snake away didn't show the same activity.
So the scientists have concluded that courage resides in the sgACC. It seems like a logical conclusion, but what can they do with that knowledge? Says Dr. Dudai:
'Specifically, our findings delineate the importance of maintaining high sgACC activity in successful efforts to overcome ongoing fear and point to the possibility of manipulating sgACC activity in therapeutic intervention in disorders involving a failure to overcome fear.'
Yes, science may soon be able to instill courage in humans without the use of rousing speeches or self-sacrificing acts of bravery. Perhaps one day I'll finally be able to make it through a Fatal Frame game without screaming like a little girl.

EMR not Linked with Brain Cancer: Study

In recent study, Monash University senior researcher, Geza Benke, a radiation therapy expert, found that there are no possible links between electromagnetic radiations and development of brain tumors or cancers.
EMR not Linked with Brain Cancer: Study
He said that there is very scope that the two are interrelated. His team examined the cancer tumors in three different sites viz. Queensland, Toowong and RMIT University.
The researchers established that there were no sufficient evidences which could substantiate that brain cancer is resultant of exposure to electromagnetic radiation.
"It may seem coincidental that a number of people from the same office building are diagnosed with cancers but the number is reasonable", Benke said.
The team explained that electromagnetic radiations are exposed whenever the electric current gets into a power pool.
The main natural sources of electromagnetic radiations include electrical equipment, solar radiation, power lines and mobile phone systems.
According to World Health Organization, the radiation emissions are rising with the rising demand in the electricity.
Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency said that the removal of radiations from the environment is not at all achievable. However, a deeper study of the radiations can help in controlling these emissions.

Scientists Read Minds Of Coma Patients With Brain-Computer Interface

Coma patients are very challenging, both medically and ethically.  Diagnosing the level of a comatose person's brain activity in response to questions has been interpreted mainly by the level of physical response (the lifting of a finger, the blink of an eye, etc.) from the patient.  But the European Neurological Society is meeting in Berlin today and neurologists are reporting new developments in the field of brain-computer interface (BCI).
"Persistent vegetative state" (PVS) is a term used to describe persons who are in wakeful comas for longer than a few weeks - awake, but non-responsive to external stimuli.  Belgian Professor Gustave Moonen, speaking about the ability of BCI to better diagnose this state, said that about 40 percent of patients diagnosed with PVS show some signs of consciousness using BCI.

EEG images can reflect thoughts as well as emotions: image via 
EEG images can reflect thoughts as well as emotions: image via

BCI is powerful enough to show the slightest brain activity in response to even an idea presented to a comatose patient. Another study presented by German Professor Steven Laureys, investigated how BCI could be used to identify those patients who are "minimally conscious," a condition that may be present in those that are completely paralyzed and can't communicate physically, but whose consciousness is in tact.
This experiment used a control group of 13 healthy volunteers and 10 coma patients and posed 12 questions to each group. The possible responses included four commands: yes, no, stop, go. A speech computer was used to teach the possible answers to the questions.  Based on the EEGs of the coma patients, the researchers were able to determine which patients were thinking about an answer and which answer they were thinking.
"An important advantage of this method is that we are not dependent on motor responses, which are not even possible for many patients, and which are often just unconscious reflexes," reported Professor Laureys.
Three of the 10 coma patients could answer the questions correctly more than 50 percent of the time; each question was answered correctly by all patients from 25 percent to 33 percent of the time.
Professor Laureys said it would be a long time before BCI becomes routine procedure in hospitals. The use of BCI will result in more accurate care for coma patients and for those whose responses can be read through BCI, medical personnel will be able to ask questions about the patient's perceptions and needs.

Viagra® for the Brain

Efforts to find a biological treatment for diminished sexual desire or diminished arousal in women by looking for a Viagra® equivalent is misdirected. This misdirection is partly related to the misunderstanding, if not misrepresentation, of Viagra® (or Cialis® or Levitra®). Viagra® doesn't increase sexual desire in men; all it does is increase arterial blood flow into the penis while interfering with venous return. This process results in a mechanical erection but it has little or nothing to do with desire. Any stimulation to the penis of an individual on Viagra® will generate an erection, regardless of to whom the penis is attached or to whom it is inserted.

Although the clitoris has a penis-like physiology, its relatively small size makes Viagra® ineffective in women. With enough stimulation of the clitoris, though, most women, except those with an arousal disorder, will get the same engorged (i.e., "erectile") effect that Viagra® produces in a man's penis.

The new, highly touted drug -Flibanserin-might increase desire by an entirely different mechanism: it reduces brain serotonin, the affection-generating hormone, and simultaneously increases dopamine and norepinephrine, the novelty-seeking, passionate hormones. It is the same hormonal reshuffling that one experiences with the novelty of falling in love, which invariably leads to increased sexual desire in both sexes. Typically, though, passion and affection don't mix.

Biologically, the major way to increase actual sexual desire in men and women is through increasing testosterone levels, which can be done by administering exogenous testosterone (often by a skin patch.) But this can have a potential cost. In both genders testosterone may have deleterious effects (e.g. increased risk of certain cancers in men; masculinization in women) that may outweigh its potential benefits.

One good thing came out of Flibanserin research: There now is a trend to acknowledge that the source of sexual desire is the brain, not the sex organs.

Triggers in the brain make us misjudge our weight perceptions

Our brains can trick us into believing our bodies are bigger than they actually are, according to new scientific evidence.
In trials conducted by University College London, subjects were asked to hold their hand beneath a table and to mark corresponding points on top of the surface. The majority of people overestimated how big their hand really was. Experts believe the reason for this could be that triggers in the brain make us perceive our hands to be much wider than they actually are.
If this phenomenon applies to our perceptions about the rest of our bodies, then the experts say it could explain why some people develop eating disorders such as anorexia where they think of their body as obese – when in actual fact they are often dangerously thin. Another common eating disorder is bulimia, where someone regularly binge eats past the point where they are full, sometimes until they vomit.
When obese people misjudge their weight
At the other end of the weight-spectrum, obese people can misjusge themselves to be fighting fit and healthy when they are really on the verge of major health problems like heart disease and diabetes. Research from America last year found that 8% of overweight and obese people didn’t think they needed to lose any weight or were in any health danger because of their weight. Could this be caused by ‘tricks’ that our brains play on us too? Should we trust our perceptions of our bodies?
Looking at all the evidence as a whole, it seems to paint the picture that we need to be careful about how much we trust our own perceptions about our bodies. Perhaps we should take more time to listen to what others, and in particular doctors, have to say. If you are worried about any weight-related problems, from obesity to anorexia, you should get in touch with a trained doctor as soon as possible.

Brain Waves: This is Your Brain On Art

Jumping brain grafitti sticker in Barcelona
Jumping brain grafitti sticker in Barcelona. Photo by C–Monster.
 If you took an informal poll, most kids would probably tell you that school is a drag. I'm Marcie Sillman. Why does school get a bad rap? And what can be done to change that reputation? That's what educators want to know. Some recent studies show that kids who are involved in the arts do better in school. Researchers have a lot of theories to explain that success.

Elizabeth Whitford directs Seattle's Arts Corps, an organization that sponsors after school art classes. Whitford says the arts are fun, they engage students. And they can instill certain character traits.
Whitford: "Persistence. Any artist has to show extreme persistence to learn that skill, and discipline related to that. And courage and risk taking."
And some scientists believe that making art can actually alter your brain. The data that link the impact of the arts on learning are preliminary. But they've convinced some experts to venture outside the box when it comes to classroom teaching.
As Carmela Dellino strolls through the halls of Roxhill Elementary School, she seems to know every child she sees.
For the past two years, Dellino has been principal of this southwest Seattle school. She oversees a wildly diverse student body. More than 30 percent of Roxhill's 310 kids are bilingual, from Latin America, Africa or Asia.
Dellino: "Eighty–five percent qualify for free and reduced lunch, live in extreme poverty."
Dellino says most Roxhill families don't have the means to take their kids to the ballet or the symphony. And Roxhill's PTA can't raise enough extra money to hire a special art or music teacher, the way they do at more affluent schools. So when the Seattle School District asked if Roxhill wanted to take part in a pilot program that uses the arts to teach literacy skills, Dellino didn't hesitate to say yes.
Dellino: "Especially in a school like Roxhill, where our kids don't have that access to the arts that other students might have, what a wonderful way to use arts to develop literacy."
Roxhill: "Snakes, stand up, move around like a snake. I see zigzagging, hungry snakes. I hear hissing sounds."
Twenty first graders slink across a brightly patterned rug in Jenny Dew's classroom. They hiss at each other, and thrust their heads forward, like pythons ready to strike. Actor David Quicksall videotapes the action, and occasionally throws out a word of advice.
Quicksall: "Remember, we're going to stay on our feet."
Roxhill is one of four Seattle elementary schools involved in this literacy project. It's a partnership between the Seattle School District and a nonprofit called Arts Impact. A classroom teacher from each grade in the participating schools is paired with an artist mentor. The teachers study dance, theater and visual art during intensive summer training sessions. During the school year, they use specially developed lesson plans that infuse those artforms into the basic curriculum. In Jenny Dew's class, they're using theater to build vocabulary.
Dew: "I want you to think real quick. How can you move like a snake? Are you going to slither, are you going to flick, are you going to zig zag, or swim or rattle or shake?
First grader: I'm gonna flick."
The Arts Impact project is only in its first year at Roxhill, but Principal Carmela Dellino says already, the kids are pretty engaged in what's they're doing.
Dellino: "And when we can have student engagement increase, then we're going to have student learning increase. And we know, research tells us, when body and brain and creative spirit are all engaged then learning is really going to happen."
The federal Department of Education (DOE) wants more hard data about how the arts affect learning. So the DOE awarded Arts Impact $1 million to fund this particular project. Arts Impact Director Sybil Barnum says artmaking has very tangible connections to the core academic subjects kids study in school.
Barnum: "The artistic process involves gathering information, developing ideas, refining work, self reflection and revision. They are also part of many other disciplines, scientific, writing. Having students see the process they're working through is also a process in another subject area is also very helpful."
The arts may do more than foster good work habits. New scientific research shows that making art can actually change your brain. James Catterall studies the relationship between arts and basic education at the University of California at Los Angeles. He's teamed up with a group of UCLA neuroscientists to use new magnetic imaging technologies to look at the brains of kids who play music. The scans show what part of the brain is activated when a person plays a violin concerto, or a guitar lick.
Catterall: "By doing music, you are using neural pathways. The more you use them, the more they develop and the stronger they get. So the idea is, if you develop neural pathways that are good at spatial reasoning, perhaps those skills in other settings will be stronger and more useful."
Catterall says his findings are preliminary, but they indicate that kids who play music perform better in academic subjects that rely on spatial relation skills, like math. He hopes to do more brain imaging studies to find out why this happens. In Catterall's perfect world, teachers and parents would use this information to nurture a generation of creative thinkers and problem solvers.
Catterall: "As I see school classrooms, many don't make any place, any space for children's own versions of the world, their own speculation, not leaving kids room to be wrong. Those are great ways to learn. Being creative is, as I see it, as much a matter of being given time, opportunities and encouragement to think for oneself as anything else."
If Catterall's theories are true, and there's growing evidence that they are, why don't more schools follow his advice?
Barnum: "It's money. It's absolutely money."
While Arts Impact Director Sybil Barnum says most educators accept that the arts are valuable, she thinks they don't believe that art is vital to basic learning.
Barnum: "From my experience talking with administrators there's always this unspoken but, which is, I'm acountable for math and reading scores, and if the scores are not high enough, I won't get the resources I need to serve my children."
Because these days, school funding is tied to performance on standardized tests. And in most places, the arts aren't on those tests.
Quicksall: "Performers, before we stop, I can see everybody use their bodies, but I didn't hear everybody use their voice."
Back at Seattle's Roxhill Elementary school, actor David Quicksall and first grade teacher Jenny Dew are just winding up the day's vocabulary lesson. The kids have progressed from snakes to chickens, and Quicksall wants each child to portray an excited hen.
Quicksall: "I'm looking for a chicken voice, not your neutral voice, but what your voice sounds like as a chicken."
Principal Carmela Dellino says she doesn't need test scores to tell her that these kids are learning.
Dellino: "I was in a classroom one time when they were practicing vocabulary development, and then I watched in their language, their speaking language and in their writing, them integrate some of that vocabulary. So I do see the link, I do see the impact."
Even if it's only one cluck at a time.

Abnormal brain activity in migraineurs is not restricted to attacks

LOS ANGELES (June 23, 2010) – Typically, migraine is considered to be an episodic disorder with discrete attacks of headache. But new research by Dr. Till Sprenger and his team from UCSF Headache Group and Technische Universität München found increased network activity -- stronger functional connectivity -- bilaterally in the visual, auditory and sensorimotor network in migraineurs.
"There has been increasing evidence that the processing and perception of sensory stimuli is abnormal even outside of attacks," said Dr. Sprenger. "Now our findings underline that abnormal brain activity in migraineurs is not restricted to attacks – that there is an extensive alteration of functional connectivity in multiple networks reflecting the migrainous phenotype, emphasizing that migraine is a disorder of the brain."
Findings will be presented at the American Headache Society's 52nd Annual Scientific Meeting in Los Angeles this week.
"This research has been anticipated for some time and is absolutely fundamental to our understanding of migraine," said David Dodick, M.D. president of the American Headache Society. "It is likely that the observed interictal abnormalities of brain activity and connectivity explains the predisposition to spontaneous attacks, as well as the vulnerability of migraineurs to a myriad of external and endogenous triggers. It may also explain the persistence of headache in some sufferers and the persistence of symptoms in between attacks of pain (e.g. sensitivity to light)."
More than 200 scientific papers and posters are being presented during the AHS meeting which is expected to draw some 500 migraine and headache health professionals including doctors, researchers, and specialists.

Boost brain power foods

Want to give your brain a kick start?

© Copyright 2010 Food Hygiene & Safety Online BlogIts important not to reduce the amount of fat in the diet by too much.  The brain actually requires omega 3 and omega 6 un-saturated fats.
Reducing these by too much can cause a loss of memory over time
It also necessary to ensure you are sometimes eating fresh fruit for breakfast, oily fish with proteins at lunch time and complex carbohydrates at for tea.
This will prove popular with choco-addicts everywhere, but there is evidence that the ingredients of chocolate will help increase your brain power.
Chocolate contains magnesium, which enables the heart to pump more oxygen to the brain. To partly understand the addiction to chocolate,by eating it you are maintaining levels of dopamine and serotonin for a greater time, which helps relieve unhappiness.

Schizophrenia can be detected early in infants' brain'

In a finding that could lead to early detection and prevention of schizophrenia, scientists have identified abnormalities that they believe may be the early signs of the mental disorder in the brains of newborns.
Schizophrenia, which affects one in 100 people worldwide, is characterised by disordered thinking and hallucinations. Children of people with the severe mental illness are at greater risk of developing the condition.
But for the first time, researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill and Columbia University found brain abnormalities in infants which could be an indication of the illness in future.
For their study, the scientists used ultrasound and MRI to examine brain development in 26 babies born to mothers with schizophrenia and found that having a first-degree relative with the disease raised a person's risk of schizophrenia to one in 10.
The findings, the researchers said, could lead to early identification and prevention of the disease, symptoms of which usually begin as a teenager or young adult, and the problems are difficult to treat.
By identifying brain markers in high-risk infants, treatment and interventions can begin at an earlier age, they hoped.
"It allows us to start thinking about how we can identify kids at risk for schizophrenia very early and whether there things that we can do very early on to lessen the risk," said lead author John H. Gilmore, professor of psychiatry and director of the UNC Schizophrenia Research Centre.
The scientists said they plan to track the youngsters as they grow to see if the different brain structures correlate to disease development.
The findings are published online in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Imaging reveals how brain fails to tune out phantom sounds of tinnitus

GUMC researchers: If a healthy noise cancellation system is restored within the brain, it may be possible to treat the disorder -- the most common auditory disorder in adults
Washington, DC – About 40 million people in the U.S. today suffer from tinnitus, an irritating and sometimes debilitating auditory disorder in which a person "hears" sounds, such as ringing, that don't actually exist. There isn't a cure for what has long been a mysterious ailment, but new research suggests there may, someday, be a way to alleviate the sensation of this sound, says a neuroscientist from Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC).
In a Perspective piece in the June 24 issue of Neuron, Josef P. Rauschecker, PhD, says that tinnitus should be thought of as a disorder akin to the "phantom pain" felt in an amputated limb.
Tinnitus starts with damage to hair cells in the cochlea of the inner ear. This damage forces neurons in the brain's auditory areas, which normally receive input from that part of the cochlea, to become overactive to fill in the missing sound, he says. That extra, unreal noise is normally inhibited – or tuned out – by a corrective feedback loop from the brain's limbic system to the thalamus, where all sensory information is regulated, before it reaches the cerebral cortex, where a person becomes conscious of the senses. But that doesn't happen in tinnitus patients due to compromised brain structures in the limbic system.
"Neurons, trying to compensate for loss of an external signal, fire to produce sound that doesn't exist in tinnitus patients, just like neurons send pain signals to someone who has lost a limb," Rauschecker says. "What both people have in common is that they have lost the feedback loops that stop these signals from reaching consciousness."
Rauschecker says this conclusion, from his research and from other leaders in the field, provides the first testable model of human tinnitus that could provide some new avenues for therapy. "If we can find a way to turn that feedback system back on to eliminate phantom sound, it might be possible one day to take a pill and make tinnitus go away," he says.
Given his innovative work in tinnitus, Rauschecker was invited to write the review, and he collaborated with co-authors Amber Leaver, PhD., a researcher in his laboratory, and Mark Mühlau, a neurologist from the Technische Universität in Munich, Germany.
Tinnitus can be caused by damage to hair cells from a loud noise or from neurotoxicity from medications, he says, but more often than not, it is associated with hearing loss in some frequencies that commonly occurs as people grow older. And given that the world is becoming noisier and the population is aging in the U.S., incidence of tinnitus, which is already the most common auditory disorder in humans, is expected to increase even more, researchers say.
Adding to that increase are the rapidly mounting cases of tinnitus in soldiers due to loud explosions, Rauschecker says. "According to the Veterans Administration, tinnitus and post-traumatic stress disorder are the leading medical complaints," he says.
Research into tinnitus has become much more sophisticated of late, and is changing the common understanding of the disorder, Rauschecker says. "It has long been thought, and still is believed by many today, that tinnitus is a problem only of damaged hair cells in the inner ear, and if those hair cells are restored, tinnitus goes away."
The latest research suggests that while tinnitus may initially arise from such peripheral damage, it becomes a problem in the brain's central auditory pathways, which reorganizes itself in response to that damage, he says.
Recent animal models have corroborated this explanation he says, but have not provided a conclusive answer to the location and nature of these central changes. That has led neuroscientists to employ a whole-brain imaging approach, utilizing neurophysiological and functional imaging studies, to visualize various regions of hyperactivity in the auditory pathways of tinnitus patients.
The model that Rauschecker and his co-authors now propose, is that receptors in the auditory region of the brain that do not any longer perceive sensory input from damaged hair cells compensate by firing spontaneously and frequently, producing the initial tinnitus signals.
"Like phantom pain, the firing of central neurons in the brain continues to convey perceptual experiences, even though the corresponding sensory receptor cells have been destroyed," he says. "The brain fills in sensations in response to a deficit of input. Neighboring frequencies become amplified and expand into the vacated frequency range. It also happens to people with a hole in their retina. They don't see the hole because the brain fills in what is missing."
Imaging studies further show hyperactivity not only in auditory pathways of the cortex and thalamus but also in the non-auditory, limbic brain structures that regulate a number of functions including emotion. This limbic activation has been interpreted to reflect the emotional reaction of tinnitus patients to phantom sound, but research has now shown the limbic region normally blocks sound sensations sent from the auditory region that are not real. It does this by feeding sensations of sound that are not real back to a brain area in the thalamus (the thalamic reticular nucleus) that exerts inhibition on the sensory signals and can thus subtract the errant noise.
"This circuit serves as an active noise-cancelation mechanism – a feedback loop that subtracts sounds that should not be there," says Rauschecker. "But in cases where the limbic regions become dysfunctional, this noise-cancelation breaks down and the tinnitus signal permeates to the auditory cortex, where it enters consciousness."
Researchers have also found evidence that this inhibiting gating mechanism can be switched on and off, which explains why some tinnitus patients have a ringing sensation intermittently.
It remains unclear, however, why some individuals who have hearing loss do not develop tinnitus. Given that some people with tinnitus seem to be more susceptible to other disorders like chronic pain and depression, it could be that they have an independent, systemic vulnerability in one or more neurotransmitter systems in the limbic region," Rauschecker says. "That could explain why drugs that modulate neurotransmitters like serotonin appear to help some people out."
Insomnia is also linked to tinnitus, and not because ringing in the ears keeps patients awake, Rauschecker says. "Insomnia may cause tinnitus, and both may be related to serotonin depletion," he says. "It appears tinnitus is the auditory symptom of an underlying syndrome, which becomes evident in patients who happen to have a hearing loss," he says.
Therefore, identification of the transmitter systems involved in the brain's intrinsic noise cancellation system could open avenues for drug treatment of tinnitus, the authors say.

Why babies' brains are flexible

Scientists have uncovered why a baby's brain is particularly flexible and why it easily changes- it is because the brains still has to grow.
Researchers from the Bernstein Network Computational Neuroscience, the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Gottingen, the Schiller University in Jena and Princeton University (USA), used a combination of experiments, mathematical models and computer simulations to come up with the above explanation.
They showed that neuronal connections in the visual cortex of cats are restructured during the growth phase and that this restructuring could be explained by self-organisational processes.
The brain is continuously changing-neuronal structures are not hard-wired, but are modified with every learning step and every experience.
However, certain areas of the brain of a newborn baby are particularly flexible.
In animal experiments, the development of the visual cortex can be strongly influenced in the first months of life, for example, by different visual stimuli.
Nerve cells in the visual cortex of fully-grown animals divide up the processing of information from the eyes: Some "see" only the left eye, others only the right.
Cells of right or left specialisation each lie close to one another in small groups, called columns.
Headed by Matthias Kaschube, the researchers showed that during growth, these structures are not simply inflated - columns do not become larger but their number increases.
Neither do new columns form from new nerve cells.
The number of nerve cells remains almost unchanged, a large part of the growth of the visual cortex can be attributed to an increase in the number of non-neuronal cells.
These changes can be explained by the fact that existing cells change their preference for the right or the left eye.
In addition, another of the researchers' observations also points to such a restructuring-the arrangement of the columns changes.
"This is an enormous achievement by the brain - undertaking such a restructuring while continuing to function. There is no engineer behind this conducting the planning, the process must generate itself," said Wolfgang Keil, first author of the study.
The researchers used mathematical models and computer simulations to investigate how the brain could proceed to achieve this restructuring.
The scientists showed that when the tissue grows and the size of the columns is kept constant, the columns in the computer model change exactly as they had observed in their experimental studies on the visual cortex of the cat-the stripes dissolve into a zigzag pattern and thus become more irregular.
In this way, the researchers provide a mathematical basis, which realistically describes how the visual cortex could restructure during the growth phase.
The study is published in PNAS.

San Francisco requires stores to post cellphone radiation levels

San Francisco on Tuesday became the first U.S. jurisdiction to respond to increased concerns over possible links between cellphone use and cancer, adopting a city ordinance requiring retailers to post the radiation levels of mobile phones.
In a 10-to-1 vote, the city’s board of supervisors passed an ordinance that would require stores to post the specific absorption rates (SAR) of phones. Those rates are the levels at which radio frequencies penetrate body tissue. Mayor Gavin Newsom co-sponsored the measure and is expected to sign off on the ordinance to make it official.
San Francisco’s action casts new attention on the potential link between cellphone use and cancer and other illnesses caused by the radiation emitted from phones. The issue hasn’t gained as much attention in the United States as it has overseas, where Israel, Great Britain, France and Germany are among a growing number of countries that have begun warning cellphones users of potential risks those devices pose for long-term users and children.
The cellphone industry, meanwhile, has successfully fought similar legislation in the California legislature. Its trade groups CTIA and TechAmerica also argued against a bill in Maine this year that would require Maine retailers to brandish warning labels of the effects cellphone radiation might have on children. Both bills were defeated, and the industry argued that both would have caused confusion and gone against some scientific studies that don’t show a link between cellphone use and cancer.
But there has also been a growing body of research that shows a potential connection between long-term cellphone use and brain tumors. And the risks are greater for children, according to some scientists who participated in a 13-nation long-term study on cellphone use and cancer called Interphone.
“It is my hope that today’s vote in San Francisco will spur more research into the possible health effects of radiation emitted by mobile phones, particularly with respect to potential effects on children," said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), former chairman of the House telecommunications subcommittee. Markey had conducted hearings in the early 1990s into the health impact of cellphones. "No single study is conclusive, and ongoing research is needed to add to the body of knowledge on this important subject. I look forward to following the implementation of the San Francisco ordinance and continuing the work I began in the 1990s when I was chairman of the telecommunications subcommittee, to encourage more scientific studies that advance our understanding in this vital area.”

Brain snaps are fiction, the real issue is control

SO-CALLED ''brain snaps'' - as demonstrated by Timana Tahu - are a convenient fiction, say psychologists, and anyone who is motivated to do so can learn to overcome a tendency to anger.
The Parramatta centre's on-field meltdown on Monday, in which he went wild and committed a reckless high tackle within minutes of the start of the Eels' match against Newcastle in the NRL, has earned him a possible four- to five-week suspension.
Tahu rationalised the outburst as an element of his aggressive playing style. But sports psychologist Gareth Mole said the conflation of aggression with success in sport was a fallacy. ''In rugby league it's useful to have an amount of aggression, but way, way below'' that exhibited by Tahu, he said. ''Saying, 'I'm just an aggressive person,' is absolute garbage … the key word is control. Do you want to control your aggression or be a victim of your own aggressive impulses?''

Mr Mole, the head of sport psychology at Condor Performance in Sydney, said, ''A brain snap scientifically doesn't exist'' and when people reported physical sensations of being overcome by anger, they were actually describing the experience of overwhelming emotion.
High testosterone levels - more common among young, physically developed men - were biologically linked to aggressive tendencies, Mr Mole said, but had no bearing on the ability to master anger.
Most sporting codes emphasised physical and technical preparation at the expense of giving elite players the necessary mental skills to stay focused under extreme stress, Mr Mole said. ''Rugby league is particularly guilty in this regard,'' he said, as they rarely employed qualified psychologists who could help players calibrate aggression in line with the demands of their sport.
Tom Denson, a senior lecturer in social psychology at the University of NSW, said players' public tantrums did not inevitably mean there was a problem in the code: ''One thing we would need to know is are rugby league players more angry than other people of that age and physical build?'' he said.
About half of a person's tendency towards aggression was inherited, Dr Denson said, but the rest resulted from social conditioning, and people could learn to overcome the impulse to lash out. He said self-control training could help people inhibit their aggression, even if the training was not related to anger.
In the US, brain scientists had shown that after two weeks right-handed people who trained themselves to use their left hand for some tasks were less likely to fly off the handle, Dr Denson said.
His own experiments have used magnetic resonance imaging to picture people's brains while they are being made furious by attempting an impossible task.
Those who remonstrated exhibited less activity in their dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with emotion regulation.

Smiling makes you happy research into botox shows

Smiling actually increases your happiness, research into anti-wrinkle treatment Botox suggests.

The trend for 'baby' Botox: 10 of the best practitioners Researchers have discovered that being unable to smile when you are happy feeds back to the brain reducing the intensity of feeling.
Botox, used to fight facial wrinkles, is made of an extremely toxic protein called Botulinum toxin that temporarily paralyses the muscles that cause creases.

That means no lines, but also no moving of the muscles at all which often makes faces look frozen.
Now the lack of facial expressions may influence emotional experiences as well, the research found.
A person with limited ability to make facial expressions was found to also have a limited ability to feel emotions.
"With Botox, a person can respond otherwise normally to an emotional event, [such as] a sad movie scene, but will have less movement in the facial muscles that have been injected, and therefore less feedback to the brain about such facial expressivity," said researcher Joshua Davis, a psychologist at Barnard College in New York.
"It thus allows for a test of whether facial expressions and the sensory feedback from them to the brain can influence our emotions."
Mr Davis and his Barnard colleague Ann Senghas led a team of researchers who showed people emotionally charged videos both before and after they were injected with either Botox, or Restylane – a substance injected into lips or facial wrinkles that fills out sagging skin.
Restylane was used as a control because it simply adds filler but doesn't limit the movement of muscles.
Compared with the control group, the Botox participants "exhibited an overall significant decrease in the strength of emotional experience," the researchers wrote in a paper published in the journal Emotion.
The Botox group responded less strongly to mildly positive clips after they had the injections than before the Botox.
The findings tie into an idea suggested more than a century ago that feedback from facial expressions to the brain can influence the experience of emotions, the researchers said.
The simple act of smiling can help make you feel happy, while frowning can bring down your mood.

Say goodbye to fear of snakes and other phobias thanks to the new pill that gives courage

No fears: A snake such as this python will no longer prove scary for those with phobias thanks to the new drug
A pill that gives cowards courage could be in the pipeline after scientists pinpointed a brain region key in overcoming fear.
Snake pythonThe drug that activates these brain cells could help people face their phobias, from spiders to heights and public speaking.
Israeli researchers looked at how the brain reacts to ophidiophobia - or fear of snakes.
Volunteers with and without a fear of snakes had their brains scanned as they watched either a cuddly toy bear or a live snake move past them on a conveyer belt.
A touch of a button brought the bear and snake closer - or moved them further away.
The scans showed up different patterns of brain activity when volunteers succumbed to fear and when they displayed courage by deliberately overcoming it.
A region called the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, which helps us process to emotions, lit up when those who were scared of snakes exhibited bravely by moving the snake closer to them.
And the bigger their fear of snakes, the greater the activity in the region, the journal Neuron reports.
Researcher Dr Yadin Dudai, of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, said the results shone a light on the basis of courage.
They also 'point to the possibility of manipulating subgenual anterior cingulate cortex activity in therapeutic intervention in disorders involving a failure to overcome fear.'
Previous research has shown that the stress hormone cortisol can make the difference between being a hero or a coward.
Those who rise to the challenge do not experience the cortisol rush of those who fall to pieces when the going gets tough.
When US psychiatrists subjected soldiers to concentration camp simulations and other extremely stressful situations they found that those who remained calm made less cortisol.
They also made more neuropeptide Y, a compound that counteracts the effects of cortisol.
The work has caught the eye of the US military, who believe it could be used to create the perfect soldier.
Using the right cocktail of supplements, steroids and mind exercises, it might be possible to turn run-of-the-mill recruits into heroes.
An estimated 16million Britons suffer phobias, ranging from fear of spiders to fear of the colour yellow or the number 13.
Current treatments involve therapies such as cognitive behavioural treatment, in which sufferers are made to confront their phobia.
For example someone with arachnophobia could first be made just to say the word 'spider'.
Then they would progress to looking at pictures of spiders and, eventually, actually touching one.
Anti-depressant drugs and tranquilisers such as Valium can also be given to ease anxiety.

Scientists study the brain as it grows

GOTTINGEN, Germany, June 23 (UPI) -- German scientists say they've determined that a baby's brain is particularly flexible and easily changes because it must function while it grows.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Gottingen, Germany, the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin, Schiller University in Jena, Germany, and Princeton University said they used a combination of experiments, mathematical models and computer simulations to show neuronal connections in the visual cortex of cats are restructured during the growth phase and that restructuring can be explained by self-organizational processes.

"This is an enormous achievement by the brain -- undertaking such a restructuring while continuing to function," said Wolfgang Keil, a Max Planck scientist and first author of the study. "There is no engineer behind this conducting the planning, the process must generate itself."

The study, led by former Max Planck researcher Matthias Kaschube who is now at Princeton, appears in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Professors spot brain stem in God's throat

God from Michaelangelo's The Separation of Light and Darkness section of the painting
God from Michaelangelo's The Separation of Light and Darkness section of the painting
Two American professors claim to have spotted something everyone else has missed for the last 500 years.
Take a close look at Michelangelo's painting of God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, and see if you agree.
The boffins from the respected Johns Hopkins University say they can see what looks like an organ from the human brain - the brain's stem - in God's throat.
But they don't conclude why the Italian renaissance painter he might have chosen to place it there, other than that he was also an avid student of anatomy.

IsoRay and Hologic Sign Exclusive Worldwide License for Crucial Brain Cancer Treatment Device

FDA-Cleared GliaSite(R) Balloon Catheter Is World's Only Device to Deliver Liquid Radiation Source Therapy 
RICHLAND, Wash., Jun 23, 2010 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- IsoRay, Inc. /quotes/comstock/14*!isr/quotes/nls/isr (ISR 1.63, +0.16, +10.71%) announced today that it has completed a license agreement with Hologic, Inc. /quotes/comstock/15*!holx/quotes/nls/holx (HOLX 14.63, -0.26, -1.75%) for exclusive worldwide distribution rights to the GliaSite(R) radiation therapy system, the world's only FDA-cleared balloon catheter device used in the treatment of brain cancer. The system's balloon catheter is a landmark technology that allows physicians to treat more patients than ever before with brachytherapy or internal radiation and provides important benefits over other radiation treatment options.
Brain cancer presents unique treatment challenges. Brain tumors are very often difficult to remove completely because of the need to avoid damaging the brain. Further, tumors tend to spread to healthy parts of the brain. Typically, surgeons remove as much as they can of the tumor and then treat the areas surrounding where the tumor was removed with radiation therapy. They sometimes use chemotherapy as well. However, most cancerous brain tumors reoccur shortly following removal, and the cancer tends to return near the site of the original tumor. Brain cancer is one of the fastest growing cancers and recurrence often proves fatal.
The GliaSite system offers a number of advantages in brain cancer treatment. It places a specified high dose of a liquid radiation source in the areas most likely to contain cancer after brain tumor removal and is less likely to damage healthy brain tissue. It helps eliminate the ability for the tumor to reoccur, which in turn impacts patient longevity.
In a related major development, IsoRay is moving forward with the regulatory approval process for its new liquid form of Cesium-131, an exciting advance in brachytherapy for the treatment of brain cancer, that would be delivered using the GliaSite radiation therapy system.
IsoRay CEO Dwight Babcock said physicians have voiced strong support for the GliaSite system and liquid Cesium-131 combination because they recognize the benefits afforded their patients. "In America alone, more than 200,000 men, women, and children are diagnosed with brain cancers every year. The GliaSite therapy system and its use to deliver a liquid radiation source is a versatile, effective treatment for numerous brain cancers," he said.
Cesium-131 brachytherapy is a patented internal radiation therapy that has several advantages over older radioactive isotopes including faster delivery of a radiation dose that allows less time and opportunity for the cancer cells to repopulate and has a soft energy that minimizes radiation exposure for the operating room and support staff as well as the patient's family members.
Babcock said this is another step forward in IsoRay's efforts to advance cancer treatment. "Progress spells hope for patients and the physicians who help them. The GliaSite system represents further achievement as we work toward our goal of expanding brachytherapy solutions throughout the entire body and improving outcomes for cancer patients," said Babcock.
Previously, approximately 500 GliaSite cases were performed annually at some 40 hospitals worldwide. GliaSite therapy has established reimbursement for both in-patient and out-patient settings.
About IsoRay
IsoRay, Inc., through its subsidiary, IsoRay Medical, Inc., is the sole producer of Cesium-131 brachytherapy seeds, which are expanding brachytherapy options throughout the body. Learn more about this innovative Richland, Washington company and explore the many benefits and uses of Cesium-131 by visiting
GliaSite is a trademark or registered trademark of Hologic and/or Hologic subsidiaries in the Unites States and/or other countries.
Safe Harbor Statement
Statements in this news release about IsoRay's future expectations, including: the advantages of our Proxcelan Cesium-131 seed, the advantages of the Gliasite delivery system, whether a liquid form of Cesium-131 will be developed that receives regulatory approval and can be used successfully with the Gliasite delivery system, whether IsoRay will be able to expand its base beyond prostate cancer, whether IsoRay's Cesium-131 seed will be used to treat additional cancers and malignant disease, whether the use of Cesium-131 to treat brain or other cancers will be successful in the initial and any future implants, and all other statements in this release, other than historical facts, are "forward-looking statements" within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PSLRA"). This statement is included for the express purpose of availing IsoRay, Inc. of the protections of the safe harbor provisions of the PSLRA. It is important to note that actual results and ultimate corporate actions could differ materially from those in such forward-looking statements based on such factors as physician acceptance, training and use of our products, our ability to successfully manufacture, market and sell our products, our ability to manufacture our products in sufficient quantities to meet demand within required delivery time periods while meeting our quality control standards, our ability to enforce our intellectual property rights, whether additional studies are released and support the conclusions of early clinical studies, whether initial implants of Cesium-131 to treat brain or other cancers result in favorable patient outcomes, whether resources are available as needed to develop a liquid form of Cesium-131 and whether such liquid form receives and maintains all required regulatory approvals, whether any liquid form of Cesium-131 is able to be used successfully with the Gliasite delivery system, patient results achieved when Cesium-131 is used for the treatment of cancers and malignant diseases beyond prostate cancer whether with the Gliasite delivery system or in another delivery system, successful completion of future research and development activities, and other risks detailed from time to time in IsoRay's reports filed with the SEC.

Study Shows Courage Sparks Certain Parts of Brain

Finding could lead to treatment for fear, researchers say
WEDNESDAY, June 23 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists have uncovered new details about brain mechanisms associated with courage.
Israeli researchers used functional MRI to scan brain activity in volunteers as they decided whether to move either a toy bear or a live corn snake closer or farther away from them. Prior to the study, the participants had been classified as "fearful" or "fearless" based on a questionnaire about snake fears.
The scans showed that activity increased in an area of the brain called the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC) when participants chose to act courageously.
The findings appear in the June 24 issue of the journal Neuron.
"Our results propose an account for brain processes and mechanisms supporting an intriguing aspect of human behavior, the ability to carry out a voluntary action opposite to that promoted by ongoing fear, namely courage," study leader Dr. Yadin Dudai, of the Weizmann Institute of Science, and colleagues said in a news release from the journal publisher.
"Specifically, our findings delineate the importance of maintaining high sgACC activity in successful efforts to overcome ongoing fear and point to the possibility of manipulating sgACC activity in therapeutic intervention in disorders involving a failure to overcome fear," they concluded.

How lead exposure damages the brain

Washington, June 23 (ANI): In a new study, researchers have established how exposure to lead during early brain development in children can damage it.

They found that exposure to lead during the formation of synapses alters the levels of several key proteins involved in neurotransmitter release.

Effective brain function depends on the efficient signalling from one neuron to the next, a process that depends on a quick release of neurotransmitters at synapses.

It was known that during a child's early brain development, exposure to lead during synaptogenesis affects the release of these critical neurotransmitters but the reason was unclear.

Tomas Guilarte, chair of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health suggests that these changes are mediated by the inhibition of the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR), disrupting the release of the trans-synaptic signaling neurotrophin, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

During early brain development, packets of pre-assembled proteins arrive at presynaptic active zones (PAZ), which are highly specialized regions designed to provide fast efficient neurotransmitter release. Disruption of this normal developmental process can impair brain function throughout life-as is the case with early lead exposure.

"What this work shows is that we are beginning to understand a comprehensive mechanism by which lead exposure alters the basic molecular biology of brain synapses," says Guilarte, who is also Leon Hess Professor of Environmental Health Sciences.

"Our results are the first to explain precisely how the vesicular release of neurotransmitters is impaired."

Scientists Develop Brain Scan That Predicts 75% Of Behavior

(ChattahBox) – A new type of brain scan has provided insight into human behavior, which doctors hope will be useful in motivating patients…and advertisers hope will be helpful in motivating consumers.

Scientists viewed live brain scans of volunteers, feeding them messages about using sunscreen. They then looked at what the volunteers said about using sunscreen, versus what the scans told them they would do. They then pitted that information against their use of sunscreen over the next week.
Each time, the scans showed what they would do better than what the volunteers said they would.
“Many people ‘decide’ to do things, but then don’t do them,” study leader Matthew Lieberman said.
Patients correctly predicted the use of sunscreen in the following week nearly half the time, but the scans were reliable 75% of the time.
The next phase of the experiments is set to begin, which willk include motivational images about quitting smoking.

Shape of Brain Tied to Personality, Scientist Says

A researcher from the University of Minnesota has found a link between the shape of different parts of people's brains and their personalities. Got a larger lateral prefrontal cortex? You're probably very conscientious, says Colin DeYoung, the lead researcher on the project.
DeYoung studied the five traits into which psychologists segment personality: conscientiousness, extroversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, and openness/intellect. Certain parts of the brain are known to be associated with behaviors connected to each trait. DeYoung had volunteers fill out a personality questionnaire, then used a brain imaging test to measure the relative size of different parts of the brain in light of those traits.
He found, for example, that conscientious people tend to have a bigger lateral prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain involved in planning and controlling behavior. The research appears in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
But what he has found is merely a correlation, not evidence that size is caused by personality type. If you're extra happy, you won't grow a larger lobe, he says.
"The correlations we found can't prove that the brain systems identified are directly influencing personality," DeYoung told "It could be that an extroverted person has more experiences of a certain kind, which could influence the size of one part of the brain -- rather than that that part of the brain helps to drive extroversion."
Advances in genetics suggest parents-to-be may someday be able to genetically select for, say, blue eyes and brown hair. DeYoung is quick to point out that his work doesn't mean parents will be able to request an especially outgoing baby.
"It doesn't look likely that we will be able to select genetically for complex personality traits any time soon," he said. "The picture coming from genetic studies of personality is that individual traits are influenced by dozens and even hundreds of genes, each of which has only a very small effect. The path from genes to personality is so complex that it would be difficult to manipulate."
The study found associations for conscientiousness, which is associated with planning; neuroticism, a tendency to experience negative emotions that is associated with sensitivity to threat and punishment; and agreeableness, which relates to parts of the brain that allow us to understand each other's emotions, intentions and mental states. Only openness/intellect didn't associate clearly with any of the predicted brain structures.
"This starts to indicate that we can actually find the biological systems that are responsible for these patterns of complex behavior and experience -- what make people individuals," DeYoung said. He points out, though, that this doesn't mean that your personality is fixed from birth; the brain grows and changes as it grows. Experiences change the brain as it develops, and those changes in the brain can change personality.