Saturday, April 21, 2012

Migraine patients find pain relief in electrical brain stimulation

Chronic migraine sufferers saw significant pain relief after four weeks of electrical brain stimulation in the part of the brain responsible for voluntary movement, the motor cortex, according to a new study

Researchers from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, Harvard University and the City College of the City University of New York used a noninvasive method called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) as a preventative migraine therapy on 13 patients with chronic migraine, or at least15 attacks a month. After 10 sessions, participants reported an average 37 percent decrease in pain intensity.
The effects were cumulative and kicked in after about four weeks of treatment, said Alexandre DaSilva, assistant professor at the U-M School of Dentistry and lead author of the study, which appears in the journal Headache.
"This suggests that repetitive sessions are necessary to revert ingrained changes in the brain related to chronic migraine suffering," DaSilva said, adding that study participants had an average history of almost 30 years of migraine attacks.

The animation above shows where on the skull scientists placed the non-invasive electrodes, and where the current flowed through the brain. The areas in blue show low current. The areas in red show high current, and they found that this high current reached key pain processing structures deeper within the brain.
The researchers also tracked the electric current flow through the brain to learn how the therapy affected different regions. "We went beyond, 'OK, this works,'" DaSilva said. "We also showed what possible areas of the brain are affected by the therapy."
They did this by using a high-resolution computational model. They correctly predicted that the electric current would go where directed by the electrodes placed on the subject's head, but the current also flowed through other critical regions of the brain associated with how we perceive and modulate pain.
"Previously, it was thought that the electric current would only go into the most superficial areas of the cortex," DaSilva said. "We found that pain-related areas very deep in the brain could be targeted."
Other studies have shown that stimulation of the motor cortex reduces chronic pain. However, this study provided the first known mechanistic evidence that tDCS of the motor cortex might work as an ongoing preventive therapy in complex, chronic migraine cases, where attacks are more frequent and resilient to conventional treatments, DaSilva said.
While the results are encouraging, any clinical application is a long way off, DaSilva said.
"This is a preliminary report," he said. "With further research, noninvasive motor cortex stimulation can be in the future of adjuvant therapy for chronic migraine and other chronic pain disorders by recruiting our own brain analgesic resources."

Tiny gene change affects brain size, IQ: scientists

The discovery came in a study of brain scans and DNA samples from more than 20,000 people from North America, Europe and Australia, of European ancestry. 

PARIS: An international team of scientists said Sunday the largest brain study of its kind had found a gene linked to intelligence, a small piece in the puzzle as to why some people are smarter than others.
A variant of this gene “can tilt the scales in favour of a higher intelligence”, study leader Paul Thompson told AFP, stressing though that genetic blessings were not the only factor in brainpower.
Searching for a genetic explanation for brain disease, the scientists stumbled upon a minute variant in a gene called HMGA2 among people who had larger brains and scored higher on standardised IQ tests.
Thompson dubbed it “an intelligence gene” and said it was likely that many more such genes were yet to be discovered.
The variant occurs on HMGA2 where there is just a single change in the permutation of the four “letters” of the genetic code.
DNA, the blueprint for life, comprises four basic chemicals called A (for adenine), C (cytosine), T (thymine) and G (guanine), strung together in different combinations along a double helix.
In this case, the researchers found that people with a double “C” and no “T” in a specific section of the HMGA2 gene had bigger brains on average.
“It is a strange result, you wouldn’t think that something as simple as one small change in the genetic code could explain differences in intelligence worldwide,” said Thompson, a neurologist at the University of California at Los Angeles.
The discovery came in a study of brain scans and DNA samples from more than 20,000 people from North America, Europe and Australia, of European ancestry.
People who received two Cs from their parents, a quarter of the population, scored on average 1.3 points higher than the next group — half of the population with only one C in this section of the gene.
The last quarter of people, with no Cs, scored another 1.3 points lower.
“The effect is small,” said Thompson, but “would be noticeable on a (IQ) test … (it) may mean you get a couple more questions correct.
“It wouldn’t be an enormous change. Even so, it would help our brain resist cognitive decline later in life.”It is generally accepted that genes, a good education and environmental factors combine to determine our intelligence.
“If people wanted to change their genetic destiny they could either increase their exercise or improve their diet and education,” said Thompson.
“Most other ways we know of improving brain function more than outweigh this
gene.” He added there were ethical safeguards and laws in place to guard against the abuse of genetic information.
The research, published in Nature Genetics, was conducted by more than 200 scientists from 100 institutions worldwide, working together on a project called Enigma.
Thompson said other studies have implicated some genes in IQ, but this was the first to link a common gene to brain size.
The team found that every T in place of a C represented a 0.6 per cent smaller brain — equal to more than a year’s worth of brain loss through the normal ageing process.
Asked to comment on the research, Tom Hartley, a psychologist at Britain’s University of York said he was “a little wary of thinking in terms of a gene for intelligence.
“There are undoubtedly a lot of things that have to work properly in order to get a good score on an IQ test, if any of these go wrong the score will be worse.” But he said it was “fascinating” to find that such small genetic changes could affect the size of critical structures such as the hippocampus, the brain’s memory centre.
“Given the importance of the hippocampus in disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease these could turn out to be very significant findings,” said Hartley.
John Williams, head of neuroscience and mental health at the Wellcome Trust, a British charitable foundation which backs biomedical research, said the findings paved the way for further research into “structural changes” which occur in disorders such as dementia, autism and schizophrenia.

Changes in genetic function in the brain linked to Alzheimer's

Changes in the epigenome, a structure that controls the function of genes, were found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.
These epigenetic changes can be caused by exposure to environmental toxicants or lifestyle behaviors, according to a study out of the University of Michigan School of Public Health. If researchers can establish a causal link between epigenetic changes and toxicants, it could lead to new treatments, or even the prevention of Alzheimer's disease. This paper did not look at specific toxicants, but future studies in this body of research will, said Laura Rozek, assistant professor in the SPH and study co-author.
Further, these epigenetic changes, which cause genes to behave differently over a person's lifetime, could be reversible. The researchers found higher rates of a kind of an epigenetic change called methylation in genes located in the brains of people with Alzheimer's, said Rozek, who also has an appointment in the Department of Otolaryngology at the U-M Health System.
"Our next step is to look at exposures that occurred earlier in life and try to link those exposures to the epigenetic changes we saw in the brain," Rozek said. "That way we may find evidence that toxicants are linked to the epigenetic changes that are present in the brains in the people with Alzheimer's."
In the study, researchers did a postmortem comparison of the brains of 50 subjects, half with late onset Alzheimer's, said Dana Dolinoy, assistant professor in the U-M SPH and study co-author. Lower methylation and higher expression of the TMEM59 protein were associated with the Alzheimer's subjects, which suggests that the TMEM59 protein could be a good therapeutic target to prevent and treat Alzheimer's, Rozek said.
"If there are epigenetic changes in the brain they are potentially modifiable, there are probably ways to reverse these changes," Rozek said. "It may be a good biomarker to target for drug therapy for late onset Alzheimer's."
Researchers looked only at late onset Alzheimer's, which is vastly more common than early onset Alzheimer's, which affects only about 2 percent of people and sets in before age 60.
Scientists have identified several genes that may increase a person's risk for developing Alzheimer's. The same genes can have different outcomes in different people. So, other factors must play a role in developing the disease, and this has fueled studies on the epigenetics of Alzheimer's.
Howard Hu, chair of the SPH Department of Environmental Health Sciences, is the principal investigator on the study. Co-authors include Kelly Bakulski, U-M SPH, and researchers from the U-M Health System and the Department of Veteran's Affairs in Ann Arbor.

Study: Better Brain Health With Dietary Supplement Use - VitalMax Vitamins' Memorin Nutrients Protect Memory

A recent study out of the University of Illinois has shown that people who used dietary supplements tended to have less age-related brain shrinkage associated with cognitive decline and memory loss symptoms.
Photo: PRWeb / AL Researchers out of Boston University’s School of Medicine also state that dementia and memory loss could reach all-time high levels in the Baby Boom generation. However, key dietary supplements, like those contained in Vitalmax Vitamins Memorin, have shown promise in fighting memory loss disorders. One of these is Huperzine-A, a strong antioxidant that neutralizes free radical damage in the brain. It also works to increase acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter, responsible for protecting memory and healthy brain functioning.
Vitalmax Vitamins expert and Director of south Florida’s Institute for Healthy Aging, Mark Rosenberg, M.D., explains the benefits of Memorin’s ingredients: “Memorin contains multiple ingredients that are considered brain-boosters known for their ability to help alleviate and remedy forgetfulness, decrease mental fatigue, improve concentration and mental clarity.”
About VitalMax Vitamins,
Since 1997, VitalMax Vitamins has offered a great selection of nutritional supplements that have been researched and developed by some of the leading health experts in the country. In addition,, Vitalmax’s signature internet natural health newsletter presents breaking news of the most current health information and products, plus archives over a thousand health related articles. 

Gingrich touts brain science research during DBI visit

Newt Gingrich visits DBI to discuss the importance of brain science research.
9:01 a.m., April 20, 2012--Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich visited the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI) at the University of Delaware on Thursday morning, April 19, to discuss the importance of brain research with faculty, scientists and advocates for neurological research and the treatment of brain diseases.
"If you are looking at trying to impact health care, we need to invest substantially in more brain research than we currently do," Gingrich said. "There are so many manifestations of bad health relating to brain activity."
Additional research commitments are needed in areas such as autism and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, Gingrich said.
The health concerns are "staggering" and yet "our research response is not," Gingrich said. "If you look at the 41 years since President Nixon declared war on cancer, and the scale of investment in cancer research, or look at AIDS, you can see the size of those commitments."
Gingrich said key goals include a public/private research initiative to map the brain and maximize understanding of how it works and what affects it, a reformed Food and Drug Administration with the mission of understanding emerging new science and accelerating its development from the laboratory to the patient, and the development of an integrated public/private partnership to use new technologies to minimize the stress of caregiving and maximize the potential for independent living for those with brain disorders.
Kelvin Lee, Gore Professor of Chemical Engineering and director of DBI, said the discussion reflects the opportunity for progress while illustrating the total collaborative effort such a goal will require.
“I think we agreed that investments to support a more comprehensive understanding of the brain (and brain diseases) would facilitate the discovery and implementation of new treatments, improved care and outcomes, as well as lower costs to society,” Lee said. “On the other hand, developing such an understanding will require multidisciplinary teams to work together and will require partnerships among academic, public, and private institutions.”
Thomas Buchanan, George W. Laird Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Delaware Rehabilitation Institute, said, " A better understanding of brain science is critical to providing aid to those with Parkinson's Disease, stroke, cerebral palsy and a host of other neurological disorders that lie at the heart of the rehabilitation research in the state of Delaware. I think that if we, as a nation, invest in brain sciences in a major way, we will be more than paid back in health benefits for our parents, our children and ourselves."
Other University faculty joining Lee and Buchanan at the discussion were:
  • Stuart Binder-McLeod, chair of the Department of Physical Therapy and Edward L. Ratledge Professor of Physical Therapy, and an affiliated faculty member in the Biomechanics and Movement Science Program;
  • Anna Klintsova, associate professor of psychology; and
  • Greg Miller, chair of the Department of Psychology
Lee also noted that DBI is hosting a science retreat for the Delaware neuroscience community on Friday, Sept. 27, at Buena Vista Conference Center in New Castle.

Scanning the brain for impending error

Federico Cirett, a doctoral student in the UA computer science department, can predict within about a 20 second period and with consistent accuracy when a person will make a mistake on a standardized math exam. (Photo credit: Federico Cirett)
Scanning the brain for impending error
( -- UA computer science doctoral student Federico Cirett is using new technology to predict, in advance, when people will make a mistake. He's been testing subjects taking the SAT exam in math.

Our bodies and brains tend to give us good cues about when we are becoming stressed, fatigued or overwhelmed.
But what if, with near exact precision, you could predict when heightened levels of fatigue were about to cause you to make a mistake?
University of Arizona doctoral student Federico Cirett believes he's found a way – and with about 80 percent accuracy.
Cirett had been working on the Animal Watch tutoring program with Carole Beal, a professor in the UA's School of Information: Science, Technology and Arts, or SISTA.
Noticing English language learners were having more difficulty answering problems, Cirett set out on an investigation for his dissertation work.
"There are so many things going on where students may be getting distracted, but it wasn't clear," said Cirett, a department student working on his dissertation. "So, I thought to measure brain states of students as they were working on the material."
Using electroencephalography, or EEG, technology, Cirett began studying specific brain wave activity in students taking the math portion of the popular, but challenging, SAT exam.
Measuring the activity, Cirett was able to detect with 80 percent accuracy whether a student – all of them university students – would answer a question incorrectly about 20 seconds after they began the question.
The findings have important implication for students and educators, said Beal, also Cirett's adviser and collaborator.
With the findings, Beal and Cirett co-authored "EEG estimates of engagement and cognitive workload predict math problem solving outcomes." The paper has since been accepted for presentation during the User Modeling, Adaptation and Personalization conference to be held in Montreal, Canada in July.
"He's done this great project, and his contribution is applying this research to education," said Beal, who has spent years developing AnimalWatch, a Web-based tutoring system centered on algebra readiness.
But how is this done?

During his work on AnimalWatch, Cirett said he noticed that the English language learners – the majority of them who spoke Spanish as their primary language – seemed to be having a more difficult time answering problems than did their primarily English-speaking peers.
Cirett found that the students performed at comparable levels on the math problems, but the English learners stumbled a bit. "It was the language barrier."
"We want students to be able to solve these problems," Cirett said, "but we have to make these problems easier for them to read, but we have to give them better opportunities."
Mexico-born Cirett, who came to the UA to study alongside his wife, spoke with Beal about using the EEG technology, which she had employed in the past.
For his research, which was partially funded by the National Science Foundation, Cirett employs a headset developed by the San Diego-based Advanced Brain Monitoring Technologies, which is generally used to monitor high-stress and fatigue in military personnel.
"Some of it is pre-programmed," Beal said, noting that the technology and algorithms had already been designed.
"But what Federico did was to look at these patters to create a classification," Beal said. "His algorithm is much better than chance and it's much better than knowing the number of correct answers people typically get on the exam."
With its nine sensors, the device records information about individual attention levels and cognitive workload as they completed multiple-choice math questions, some easy; some hard. For instance, the measurements were directly correlated to how engaged students were in their work and how they felt in the process.
During the study, students also reported on feelings of frustration and their perceived difficulty of the math problems. Cirett analyzed the data to try and figure out if the EEG data specific to students' attention levels and their cognitive workload could predict when they would answer a question with the correct answer.
Though his research involved college students, Cirett intends for his work to inform efforts to improve tutoring programs, especially for English language learners.
Cirett and Beal point to developments over the last decade in intelligent tutoring systems, those modeled after human behavior, which have resulted in more adaptive systems.
But what Cirett wants to see are intelligent educational technologies that would intervene at important moments in students' learning, aiding them in ways an educator might not.
The end goal, he said, is to optimize learning at the individual level, especially in the area of math, an increasingly important subject.
"There are different ways to solving this problem," Cirett said.
"But if we can detect when they are going to fail, maybe we can change the text or switch the question to give them another one at a different level of difficulty, but also to keep them engaged," Cirett said. "Brain wave data is the nearest thing we have to really know when the students are having problems."

Study: Brain activity on fMRI can predict weight gain, sexual desire

Hungry eating from fridge - 51.27 Kb
Overeating, drug addiction relapses and impulsive sexual behavior may have a deeper cause than a simple lack of will power. Researchers have demonstrated a connection between brain responses to food and sexual images measured on fMRI and future behavior, suggesting heightened reward responsivity may contribute to overeating and sexual activity, according to a study published April 18 in the Journal of Neuroscience.

“The implication of the current research is that there are individual differences in the extent to which cue exposure primes behavior, such that some individuals show more robust reward activity to appetitive cues, which in turn may produce greater behavioral priming,” wrote authors Kathryn E. Demos, PhD, and colleagues from Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.

Using fMRI, Demos and colleagues targeted the nucleus accumbens, the brain’s “reward center,” in a cohort of incoming first-year female college students. Fifty-eight were scanned while viewing images of animals, environmental scenes, appetizing food and images of people, some of which were sexual scenes. Participants were weighed and told that it was a necessary part of the scanning procedure.

Six months later, 48 study participants returned, with 10 lost to follow-up. Those who returned were weighed again and asked to complete a questionnaire assessing their sexual behavior.

Results showed that activity in the left nucleus accumbens correlated positively with body mass index (BMI) change. “Importantly, this relationship was unique to the food images. [Nucleus accubens] activity in response to the non-food images did not predict weight gain,” wrote the authors.

Similarly, brain activity when viewing sexual images was positively correlated with sexual desire, while non-sexual image response was not predictive of sexual desire.

"This is one of the first studies in brain imaging that uses the responses observed in the scanner to predict important, real-world outcomes over a long period of time," Todd Heatherton, PhD, a coauthor on the study, said in a statement. "Using brain activity to predict a consequential behavior outside the scanner is pretty novel."

The researchers noted that the first step toward controlling cravings is to become aware of how much they are affected by triggers in the environment. "You need to actively be thinking about the behavior you want to control in order to regulate it," said William M. Kelley, PhD, coauthor. "Self-regulation requires a lot of conscious effort."

‘Brain stroke 2nd most frequent cause of death; timely treatment vital’

Ras Al Khaimah: More than 50 per cent patients fail to recognise symptoms of stroke, and make the cardinal mistake of waiting for these symptoms to disappear automatically, an expert observed.

Acute stroke or brain attack is a medical emergency and urgent medical care is key to saving lives. Knowledge of a stroke’s warning signs is a must. Brain attacks can be treated effectively, provided that the patient reaches the specialised unit in time.

“What’s important is to identify the symptoms and take immediate action.  It is critical that the person be taken to hospital within 1-3 hours to reverse the damage, beyond which it could be permanent,” warned Dr Hillol K Pal, head of Neurosurgery department at RAK Hospital.

“Treatment received in the first 90 minutes is most crucial. The symptoms for stroke and Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA) or mini stroke are almost similar; while the former is permanent, the latter, potentially reversible,” he said.

“The warning signs of a TIA tend to be discreet. They disappear on their own, do not cause any pain, can be endured and, therefore, forgotten. However, the consequences of a stroke can be cruel, lifelong, painful and impairing, leading to the loss of livelihood or family life, drastically affecting the quality of life or even causing instantaneous death.” “That is why it is critical for everyone to “Be Stroke Smart” and learn a stroke’s 3 Rs: Reduce risk, Recognise symptoms, Respond by calling the nearest hospital that is equipped with an acute stroke unit.”

“Stroke or ‘brain attack’ occurs when a blood clot blocks the blood flow in a vessel or artery or when a blood vessel breaks, interrupting blood flow to an area of the brain. There are two types of “brain attacks” — ischaemic and haemorrhagic. Ischaemic strokes are the most common kind of strokes, comprising 84 per cent of all strokes,” explained Dr Pal.

Statistically, only three per cent of acute stroke patients worldwide actually reach the hospital in time for any meaningful treatment, and hence it becomes important to educate people about stroke, its causes, symptoms and treatments.

“The TIA or ‘mini stroke’ is caused by a temporary fall in blood supply to the brain, leading to a lack of oxygen to it, something that is usually resolved within 24 hours,” Dr Pal said.

He was speaking on the occasion of launching a specialised “Acute Stroke Unit” set up at RAK Hospital in Ras Al Khaimah.

The unit, which comes as a big respite to the residents in the emirate, has a team of specialised medical professionals working round the clock in an emergency room equipped with neuro-diagnostic facilities, including a 24x7 CT and MRI scanner and a 24x7 laboratory service.

“Since the launch of this unit, many brain stroke cases have been effectively treated, and life-saving emergency care provided to the people of Ras Al Khaimah and surrounding emirates,” Dr Pal revealed.

Cooperation, teamwork drove human intelligence, bigger brains

Cooperation and teamwork drove human intelligence and larger brain sizes, according to fresh evidence unearthed by scientists.
Researchers from Trinity College Dublin constructed computer models of artificial organisms, endowed with artificial brains, which played each other in classic games, such as the 'Prisoner's Dilemma', that encapsulate human social interaction.
"The strongest selection for larger, more intelligent brains, occurred when the social groups were first beginning to start cooperating, which then kicked off an evolutionary Machiavellian arms race of one individual trying to outsmart the other by investing in a larger brain," explained study co-author Andrew Jackson, assistant professor at Dublin.
"Our extraordinary level of intelligence defines mankind and sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. It has given us the arts, science and language, and above all else, the ability to question our very existence," concluded doctoral student, Luke McNally at Dublin, who led the study, the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B reports.
Researchers used 50 simple brains, each with up to 10 internal processing and 10 associated memory nodes. The brains were pitted against each other in these classic games, according to a Trinity statement.
By allowing the brains of these digital organisms to evolve freely in their model, researchers were able to show that the transition to cooperative society leads to the strongest selection for bigger brains. Bigger brains essentially did better as cooperation increased.

New Stem Cell Found in Brain: Finding Could Be Key to Developing Methods to Heal and Repair Brain Injury and Disease

ScienceDaily (Apr. 20, 2012) — esearchers at Lund University in Sweden have discovered a new stem cell in the adult brain. These cells can proliferate and form several different cell types -- most importantly, they can form new brain cells. Scientists hope to take advantage of the finding to develop methods to heal and repair disease and injury in the brain.
Analyzing brain tissue from biopsies, the researchers for the first time found stem cells located around small blood vessels in the brain. The cell's specific function is still unclear, but its plastic properties suggest great potential.
"A similar cell type has been identified in several other organs where it can promote regeneration of muscle, bone, cartilage and adipose tissue," said Patrik Brundin, M.D., Ph.D., Jay Van Andel Endowed Chair in Parkinson's Research at Van Andel Research Institute (VARI), Head of the Neuronal Survival Unit at Lund University and senior author of the study.
In other organs, researchers have shown clear evidence that these types of cells contribute to repair and wound healing. Scientists suggest that the curative properties may also apply to the brain. The next step is to try to control and enhance stem cell self-healing properties with the aim of carrying out targeted therapies to a specific area of the brain.
"Our findings show that the cell capacity is much larger than we originally thought, and that these cells are very versatile," said Gesine Paul-Visse, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Neuroscience at Lund University and the study's primary author. "Most interesting is their ability to form neuronal cells, but they can also be developed for other cell types. The results contribute to better understanding of how brain cell plasticity works and opens up new opportunities to exploit these very features."
The study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, is of interest to a broad spectrum of brain research. Future possible therapeutic targets range from neurodegenerative diseases to stroke.
"We hope that our findings may lead to a new and better understanding of the brain's own repair mechanisms," said Dr. Paul-Visse. "Ultimately the goal is to strengthen these mechanisms and develop new treatments that can repair the diseased brain."

Porn shuts down women's brains: Study

According to a new study from researchers at the University of Groningen Medical Center in the Netherlands, watching porn dulls a part of the brain in heterosexual women. (Shutterstock) According to a new study from researchers at the University of 
Groningen Medical Center in the Netherlands, watching porn dulls a part 
of the brain in heterosexual women. (Shutterstock)

Have you ever heard that watching porn will melt your brain or make you go blind? Well, it's true. Sort of.
A recent study found that watching porn dulls a part of the brain. And ironically, it's the part responsible for processing visual stimuli.
Or at least, that's what happens when straight women watch porn.
The researchers at the University of Groningen Medical Center in the Netherlands scanned the primary visual cortexes of 12 healthy heterosexual premenopausal women while showing them porn.
They found that watching actors get hot and heavy led to less blood being sent to the primary visual cortex. And the more explicit the video, the less blood they got.
That's the opposite of what usually happens when people watch TV and movies. In fact, the same women saw an increase of blood the visual cortex when they were shown a video about marine life in the Caribbean.
The researchers posit that the brain is more focused on the arousal than the actual video, and decides it doesn't really need to see every detail.
"If you look, for example, at your computer and you have to write something or whatever, then you have to look specifically and carefully at what you're doing because if you don't, it means you make mistakes," Uroneurologist Gert Holstege told LiveScience.
"But the moment you are watching explicit sexual movies, that's not necessary, because you know exactly what's going on. It's not important that the door is green or yellow.
"You have to realize that the brain wants to spare as much energy as possible, so if some part of the brain is not necessary at a high level of functioning, it immediately goes down."

Mechanical Tissue Resuscitation Technology Shows Promise Preventing Cell Death following Brain Injury

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C., April 20, 2012 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center researchers seeking a successful treatment for traumatic brain injury have found that the size and extent of damaged tissue can be reduced by using a new device to prevent cell death.

The research, the focus of a three-year, $1.5 million study funded by the Department of Defense, was recently published in the journal Neurosurgery. The technology, tested in rats, is called mechanical tissue resuscitation (MTR) and uses negative pressure to create an environment that fosters cell survival.
Louis C. Argenta, M.D., and Michael Morykwas, Ph.D., professors in the Department of Plastic Surgery and Reconstructive Surgery, and a multidisciplinary team of colleagues at Wake Forest Baptist, have more than 15 years of experience working with negative pressure devices to successfully treat wounds and burns. In this study, the team used MTR to remove fluid and other toxins that cause cell death from an injury site deep in the brain. 

When the brain is injured by blunt force, explosion or other trauma, the cells at the impact site are irreversibly damaged and die. In the area surrounding the wound, injured cells release toxic substances that cause the brain to swell and restrict blood flow and oxygen levels. This process results in more extensive cell death which affects brain function. Argenta and his team targeted these injured brain cells to determine if removing the fluid and toxic substances that lead to cell death could help improve survival of the damaged cells. 

In the study, a bioengineered material matrix was placed directly on the injured area in the brain and attached to a flexible tube connected to a microcomputer vacuum pump. The pump delivered a carefully controlled vacuum to the injured brain for 72 hours drawing fluid from the injury site.
The brain injuries treated with the device showed a significant decrease in brain swelling and release of toxic substances when compared to untreated injuries. Brains treated with the device showed that over 50% more brain tissue could be preserved compared to nontreated animals. Behavioral function tests demonstrated that function was returned faster in the MTR treated group.
"We have been very gratified by the results thus far. This study demonstrates that by working together a multidisciplinary group of researchers can develop new technology that could be used one day at the hospital bedside," said Argenta.
The researchers are now studying the same technology in stroke and brain hemorrhage models.
"The Department of Defense has identified this as an area that is ripe for medical advancement," said study co-author Stephen B. Tatter, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurosurgery at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. "We believe it will soon be ready for a clinical trial." 

Co-authors on this study are Zhenlin Zheng, Ph.D., and Allyson Bryant, M.D., Department of Plastic Surgery and Reconstructive Surgery. 

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center ( ) is a fully integrated academic medical center located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The institution comprises the medical education and research components of Wake Forest School of Medicine, the integrated clinical structure and consumer brand Wake Forest Baptist Health, which includes North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Brenner Children's Hospital, the commercialization of research discoveries through the Piedmont Triad Research Park, as well as a network of affiliated community-based hospitals, physician practices, outpatient services and other medical facilities. Wake Forest School of Medicine is ranked among the nation's best medical schools and is a leading national research center in fields such as regenerative medicine, cancer, neuroscience, aging, addiction and public health sciences. Wake Forest Baptist's clinical programs are consistently ranked as among the best in the country by U.S.News & World Report.

Dental x-rays can cause brain tumors

Most of us know that radiation from X-rays can be harmful to our body. High amounts of radiation exposure can increase the risk of several types of cancer. Ionizing radiation from X-rays can potentially damage the DNA. A recent study published in Cancer, Journal of the American Cancer Society, provides further evidence about the dangers of X-rays. This study shows that frequent dental X-rays are linked to brain tumor called meningioma.
Dental x-ray exams significantly increase risk of brain tumor
This research found that people who received dental X-rays frequently were more than twice as likely to develop meningioma. Meningioma is the most common and potentially debilitating type of non-cancerous brain tumor. This tumor occurs in the meninges, which is the membrane that is around the spinal cord and the brain. Some of the effects of meningioma are headaches, problems with vision, loss of speech and motor control. These tumors may not be detected for several years until the size of the tumor gets large.
Based on the research findings, the bitewing and panorex dental X-ray exams increase the risk of developing the brain tumor. Patients who received bitewing x-ray exams annually or more frequently were more than twice as likely to develop meningioma. In a bitewing exam, the X-ray film is held between the teeth.
Receiving a panorex exam annually or more frequently increased the risk even more. The individuals in the group receiving panorex exam were three times more likely than the control group to develop a tumor. Panorex dental exam is the exam in which the dentist uses an external device to take the X-ray of the entire set of the teeth.
Children under ten years old are most vulnerable to radiation
According to the study findings, children under 10 years old were the most vulnerable group. Since children are still growing, the cells in the body are more sensitive to radiation. As a result, the radiation affects them more than the adults. Children exposed to radiation from dental X-rays had five times the risk of developing a tumor.
Some critics of the study argue that the frequency of dental X-ray exams was based on what the volunteers remembered. They argue that not many people remember past events. So a better study is needed to strengthen the link between dental X-ray and brain tumor.
Challenge your dentist whether you really need the dental X-ray
So what do the research findings mean for all of us? Basically we have to be aware of the dangers of unnecessary X-rays. When you go to the dentist's office, usually the dentist will recommend an X-ray during each visit. You can ask your dentist whether the X-ray is really necessary. Especially if you have a child who has no risk of dental cavity, you can challenge your dentist that an X-ray may cause more harm than benefits.
Dr. Keith Black, chairman of neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, wrote about the dangers of frequent dental X-rays among young children in his 2009 book , "Brain Surgeon: A Doctor's Inspiring Encounters with Mortality and Miracles." The main reason for his concern is that the X-rays are aimed at not only the jaw but also the lower brain. Dr. Black claims that he hasn't had a dental X-ray in 20 years.
Skipping unnecessary X-ray exams is also a great way to save money. Some of the dental exams cost several hundred dollars and these exams may or may not be covered by insurance. Published by HT Syndication with permission from The Kashmir Monitor.

Newly Identified Brain MSCs Differentiate Along Mesenchymal, Neuronal Lineages

    Scientists have identified and isolated a previously unidentified population of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) that surround blood vessels in the adult brain and which they say could feasibly be exploited for repairing damaged or diseased brain tissue. A team led by Patrik Brundin, M.D., and colleagues at Lund University’s Wallenberg Neuroscience Center, isolated, purified, and characterized the perivascular stem cells from the ventricular wall and neocortex of brain biopsies.

    Patrik Brundin, M.D., et al. claim the isolated MSCs differs from previously described human neural stem cells, as they are highly positive for both pericyte and MSC markers and negative for hematopoietic, endothelial, microglial, and glial markers. Indeed, while the cells exhibited a mesenchymal phenotype and could be differentiated into osteoblasts, chondrocytes, and adipocytes, they could also be epigenetically induced to differentiate along glial and neuronal lineages. “This has not been reported for a human brain-derived progenitor cell before,” the team remarks.

    Encouragingly, the perivascular MSCs could be propagated efficiently over the long term as adherent cultures, and the cells demonstrated clonality and retained a stable karyotype and full differentiation capacity following extensive proliferation.

    Interestingly, the investigators add, the findings tie in with recent studies suggesting that MSCs in vivo may reside in the perivascular niche and might actually represent a subclass of pericyte. While the team further admits that the function of dual phenotypic stem cells in vivo is unknown, they suggest further studies will help determine whether they can be exploited for therapeutic applications. Dr. Brundin and colleagues report their findings in PLoS One in a paper titled “The Adult Human Brain Harbors Multipotent Perivascular Mesenchymal Stem Cells.”
    The investigators claim the newly identified perivascular MSCs clearly aren’t the same as previously described neural stem cells. In addition to their expression of perivasular and mesenchymal phenotypes and capacity for both neuroectodermal and mesodermal differentiation, clonal perivascualr MSCs  derived from the adult human brain don’t express mRNA for neural progenitors or exhibit neuronal markers when proliferating.

    Their discovery is of particular note as tissue-specific differentiation capacity of pericytes has previously been observed under pathological conditions, the authors point out. This includes pericyte differentiation into adipocytes during fat tissue injury or, dependent on their location, into chondroblasts, bone, myoblasts, or Leydig cells. And studies in animal models have separately demonstrated that pericytes can contribute to spinal cord repair by differentiation into astrocytes. “Our findings support previous data in primates and rodents that indicate the possible derivation of neurons from pericytes in the central nervous system,” they write.

    The new cell type will hopefully lead to a better understanding of the brain’s own repair mechanisms,comments lead author Gesine Paul-Visse, Ph.D. “The results contribute to better understanding of how brain cell plasticity works and opens up new opportunities to exploit these very features. Ultimately the goal is to strengthen these mechanisms and develop new treatments that can repair the diseased brain.”

Brain scans reveal differences in regret as people age

New research using brains scans shows that many elderly people have over time either learned to not stew over things they regret or to not regret them at all. Those that don’t learn such skills tend to become depressed, say researchers from University Medical Center in Germany, who have been conducting research into regret and aging using brain scans. The team, led by Stefanie Brassen has published the results of their efforts in the journal Science.

In their report, the team finds that young people and depressed older adults tend to rue decisions they’ve made and to fixate on them. In contrast, mentally healthy older adults tend to call it all water under the bridge and move on.
To find out such things, the team recruited sixty volunteers, 20 healthy young people, 20 mentally healthy and 20 elderly people who suffer from depression, to help them carry out an experiment. They asked each volunteer to play a video game of chance that involved several covered containers. Under each was either a gold ingot or a demon that would steal all the money they’d earned thus far. As each container was opened, the player got to keep the gold if it was underneath. As play progressed the odds of finding a demon increased, upping the anxiety. Also, to see what was going on in the brain, players played the game while being scanned inside of an MRI machine.
The researchers looked specifically at the brain region known as the ventral striatum, which is known to respond to rewards. In analyzing the players, the researchers found that young people and older depressed adults tended to show more activity than did the brains of older more complacent older people. By watching carefully, they could also measure the impact on players when they felt they opted out too early, or when they kept on playing but eventually lost all they’d won to the demon. This time, the younger players and those that were older but depressed showed less activity in the ventral striatum, indicating sadness or depression, meaning they were upset about how things had come out. The older, healthier players on the other hand showed little to no change, indicating they weren’t nearly as worried or upset about how things had played out.
The team also found by looking at the anterior cingulate cortex, that older healthy adults did actually feel some remorse at some points in the game, but suppressed it.
The researchers repeated the whole exercise with another group of volunteers, only instead of testing them with an MRI machine, they tested their heart rates and skin for electrical response (indicating degree of sweating) during play. This time too they found that the older healthier players were more relaxed regardless of outcome, while the young people and older depressed people tended to sweat it out both while playing and then when reacting to the results of their own decision making.
And finally, to put it all together, the team interviewed the volunteers asking them if they had a lot of regrets and how strong those feelings were if they hand them. Not surprisingly, the volunteers answers tended to mirror the results of the earlier experiments.
These results, the researchers say, show that as people grow older, those that do so in a healthy manner learn to not dwell on past mistakes or to suppress negative feelings about them, while those that don’t tend to become depressed.

Liver can directly talk to the brain to control amount of food we eat

Dr Barbara Fam from the University's Molecular Obesity Laboratory group at Austin Health with Associate Professor Sof Andrikopoulos have discovered that the liver can directly talk to the brain to control the amount of food we eat.
The results have demonstrated that the liver, which has never been classed as an important organ in controlling body weight before, is in fact a major player and should be considered a target for treatment of weight gain.
Test on mice showed that over-expression of a specific enzyme in the liver resulted in 50% less fat and the subjects ate less food than mice without the extra enzyme. Needed in the production of glucose, the enzyme called FBPase previously led to speculation that too much FBPase was bad for you.
'We actually thought that the mouse with the over-expressed enzyme would show signs of becoming diabetic since the enzyme is important in producing more glucose from the liver. However when we studied our mice in more depth, we were very surprised to see that this enzyme triggered a number of hormones that influence the control of appetite," said Dr Fam.
"The really striking result was that the genes in the brain, important in making us increase our food intake were actually reduced.
"The results suggest that consumption of a diet high in fat, causes an increase in liver FBPase that was likely put in place as a negative feedback mechanism to limit further weight gain. Importantly, FBPase does not function to control body weight under normal physiological circumstances but acts only when the system is exposed to excess nutrients such as fat.
"When people eat diets loaded with fat and sugars particularly over the long term, it can have a number of different effects on the body but it appears that we actually have in place an innate system that protects us from any further weight gain that could happen while eating these type of diets."
More needs to be investigated to verify this in further trials, however this study has demonstrated that liver FBPase should be viewed not only as a mediator of glucose metabolism but also as an important regulator of appetite and fat. It also gives us great insight into why the liver is a very important organ.
Source: University of Melbourne

Neuroscientist explains how to stimulate young brains

Reporter: Emma Alberici
One of the world's leading neurologists, Dr Judy Willis, says educational engagement with children in the early years pays off.


EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: Educational engagement with children in those first years pays off according to one of the world's leading neurologists, Dr Judy Willis. Dr Willis is a scientist and former teacher who has written six books about applying the mind, the brain and educational research in the classroom. Dr Willis joined us from Santa Barbara.

Judy Willis, thank you very much for being there.

DR JUDY WILLIS, NEUROLOGIST: It is my pleasure and honour.

EMMA ALBERICI: You practised as a neurologist for 15 years before changing tack and becoming a school teacher. What was it that you wanted to bring to the classroom?

DR JUDY WILLIS: Well, I hoped that I could make a change in what I was seeing as a doctor in my office. I was seeing kids referred to me for what were believed to be neurologic conditions at a greater rate than ever before. I had been in practice already for 15 years, but so many kids suddenly were being sent to me for what teachers thought were attention disorders, behaviour problems.

And that's when I found out that the schooling had changed, and now I know that it's happened all over the world; that as new information grew, it was shoved in the curriculum and these kids were responding to being asked to memorise so many facts with stress. And their stress response was what the brain is supposed to do when it is under stress, you act out, you zone out, the way animals flight, fight, freeze.

So my hope if I became a teacher, knowing what I know about the brain, that my students, 30 kids a year, I would be aware that nobody wants to act badly. They're responding to stress and I could help them do things to reduce the stress, and school wouldn't become wouldn't become so onerous. The joy would come back to learning. But it's wonderful how neuroscience shows us, guides us in ways to help kids learn more effectively.

EMMA ALBERICI: Given what we know about a child's brain and its development, how early should education start?

DR JUDY WILLIS: The earlier the better in terms of parents talking with their children, making eye contact, giving them experiences, because the brain is setting up patterns from the time it's born, organising the world into patterns and categories. And it's those that get stored as networks in the brain, so later in school and in life, new information, if it doesn't find anything in the brain to link up with, to code with, it doesn't really stay.

So the more experiences and words that they hear as babies and growing up, when they get to school, it's like a puzzle, the pieces know where to fit. And if there are problems with parents or the home situation, then having an outside opportunity like a preschool or a day care centre with people who will provide that stimulation is the next best thing.

EMMA ALBERICI: Now, in Australia we're about to introduce a system that intends to provide universal access for four-year-olds to preschool. Is that early enough do you think? Because of course, in many parts of Europe they're offering free state funded preschool 15 hours a week at the age of three.

DR JUDY WILLIS: Well, again, as an alternative to parents, who already have good bonds ... and because certainly the bond of love and affection and trust and one-on-one is ideal with parents, but if that can't be the situation - so if parents can't provide the mental manipulation and stimulation and encouragement - then starting at four is better than at five, and starting at three is better than four.

The earlier the brain experiences the opportunity to hear words, to develop patterns of what's familiar, what goes together, the better ... the more efficiently it will learn later and the more comfortable it will be with the academic setting. So as long as it is a loving place where the child feels they can explore, and natural curiosity is encouraged, not regimented, but there's a real sense of trust, the right climate at four is great to be maybe necessary for kids who don't have the right home environment.

EMMA ALBERICI: Now, there is some research that says good quality preschool education, those who have access and opportunity for that sort of environment, end up achieving better at university. How are the two related?

DR JUDY WILLIS: The brain is very plastic and the more we start building those categories of structures, those neuronal networks and patterns the better. However, once they're in place, even if there's a delay and a catch up, the kids may not have equal educational experiences once they get to school. They may not have the same attendance as other classmates. But the background that they've constructed, the brain that they've built, with early experiences, will be there and can be picked up on in later years. Whether the delay is until college or high school, that's unfortunate, but at least that net, that network, is there.

EMMA ALBERICI: In Australia we've had a lot of focus in the last few years on education, and particularly though, on funding for education and more specifically on funding things like buildings and new halls and so on. Is that necessarily always the correlation that you have to have more money, or is it more about a focus on teaching and how children learn?

DR JUDY WILLIS: What's most important to a child is the sense that they are safe and can experiment and can be curious and will be taken care of in a learning environment. So whether the building looks nice or whether it has a lot of art in the room, it's lovely. But if a child feels "I'm in a place where I can explore, try things out, say things that I think could be right, but it is all right to make mistakes," in that type of learning environment with the trust it can build, that's going to cause the most positive brain changes.

But we now know, because we have scanners that show what the brain is doing, how the brain is responding during stress, during pleasure, during fear, and we see that during stress the structures getting hyper metabolic, not letting flow to the higher brain - yet, when kids have experienced how to help themselves de-stress or suddenly when somebody comes into the room whom they trust, we can see the metabolic activity start decreasing in this area and we see flow go back again into the higher brain, and behaviour have an input from the reflective brain. So, people make the difference, trust makes the difference. Kids understanding their brain and understanding when they're acting out and zoning out, it is not their voluntary choice. It is what the brain does when it perceives stress.

EMMA ALBERICI: I think you've mentioned before in your writings that a lot of this is also down to an obsession with testing. Now children are tested throughout their academic lives here now. What's your view of the value of such tests in terms of improving outcomes?

DR JUDY WILLIS: Ideally a test should be to give the teacher, the administration, evidence about how well student are learning something so that adjustments can be made, improvements can be made in the way either in the books they're using or they way it's taught, so that learning can be more successful. Those types of written tests should not be used to judge how good the teacher or how good the student is. It should be a way of "Ok, this is the information we have back, let's see what we need to change".

But instead - and please don't go there Australia - but instead the system we have in the US is the results on these tests that the kids take, reflect directly the amount of funding schools get. So the unfortunate switch comes and the pressure is teach for the test, not use the test to inform teaching. So, you're in a good place. You haven't made the funding of a school dependent on the test scores. So, you can still use those tests for feedback, but certainly let the kids know that they are not a test score. And tests only measure what the tests ask, they don't measure how much else the child knows that isn't asked. So formal tests like those bubble tests with the multiple choice questions are fine it if it's going to change the curriculum or teaching. They're not a good way to assess the wisdom that a child has learned.

EMMA ALBERICI: The best countries in the world as far as academic achievements are concerned, what are they doing right that other countries aren't?

DR JUDY WILLIS: If I teach you how to multiply seven times 14, that's a big number. If you memorise what that is, that's a little fact, but the only time your brain will dig into that, activate that memory, is when it is asked what is seven times 14. In these other countries they dedicate a lot of time to problem solving, to discovering. So if you discovered on your own - maybe you would be doing it with little manipulatives and blocks, maybe you would be doing it by making a skit about seven and 14 - if you were to discover what seven and 14, seven times 14 is because you did things to learn it, now you have much more than a memory. It is like fishing pole versus a fish. You have the ability to extrapolate, to transfer knowledge, so you'll be able to, when higher numbers come up, you'll be able to take what you learned because you discovered what seven times 14 was. You didn't just memorise it. Your brain is so different.

A person who learns by discovery has not just the information activated in a little network circuit when they remember it, while we're scanning their brains we see connections all over their brains while they're thinking of that multiplication. And what's wonderful, these are the time multi-hemisphere connections that light up during the "aha!" moment in a child and an adult when they've gone beyond, when they've improvised, when they've innovated, when they've taken what they know and applied it to something they never applied to it before. And you can't do that with learning rote facts that are on a test. You only do that building understandings and concepts. They will be the creative and innovative kids now who will be the 21st century leaders.

EMMA ALBERICI: What you're saying, in essence, is that it's about the way we teach and they way children learn rather than where money is allocated and so on.

DR JUDY WILLIS: Just think of a child's curiosity, right? When you give a child a big present and it's in the box, a little child. They love the box, right? They have this wonderful imagination and curiosity. They can take things all over their imagination, which literally means the information is stimulating lots of places in their brain. That's the type of brain preparation that's great for school and it's great for life.

So that child who got a big box, didn't get a very expensive present or fancy classroom, they got someone who encouraged them to explore and be curious, and supported them and played with them. Turns out block play, and kids using their imagination and playing with blocks collaboratively with another classmate, that turns out to be one of the greatest things. We have to start ... it's sad, but there's a whole study about how to get kids to play, how to teach play. And when you and I were kids, no one had to teach us how to play. But since it's been pulled out, it needs to be reinstated and some people need instructions.

EMMA ALBERICI: Thank you so much Judy Willis for your time this evening.

DR JUDY WILLIS: My pleasure.

New mini sensor can measure brain's magnetic activity

The sugar cube-size NIST sensor can measure human brain activity using a gas of rubidium atoms and micro-optics.

We first reported on an earlier iteration of the sensor, which has been in development since 2004, back when the team was first able to use the sensor to track a human heartbeat in 2010.
This week, the researchers report in the journal Biomedical Optics Express that their tiny sensor -- which consists of a gas of 100 billion rubidium atoms and fiber optics to detect the light signals that in turn register the strength of magnetic fields -- now uses a new type of optical fiber that improves signal clarity.

"We're focusing on making the sensors small, getting them close to the signal source, and making them manufacturable and ultimately low in cost," says NIST co-author Svenja Knappe in the institute's news release. "By making an inexpensive system, you could have one in every hospital to test for traumatic brain injuries and one for every football team."
The researchers hope the sensor will improve magnetoencephalography (MEG), a technique for measuring the magnetic fields produced by electrical activity in the brain. Applications include testing for traumatic brain injury, screening for visual perception in newborns, and mapping neurological activity before surgeries that, say, aim to treat epilepsy or remove tumors.

The current gold standard MEG is called a superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID), but it works best at just above absolute zero and thus requires heavy helmet-shaped flasks with cryogenic coolants. NIST's sensor, for one, might allow for lighter, cheaper, and less rigid helmets.
As with the tests to detect a human heartbeat, the team worked with German scientists at a lab in Berlin that is described as having the best magnetic shielding in the world to block the Earth's magnetic field from interfering with extremely sensitive measurements. (The sensor measures signals of about a trillionth of a tesla -- called a picotesla; MRIs, by comparison, register closer to 1 to 8 tesla.)
The team says it anticipates being able to improve its sensor's performance another tenfold by upping the amount of light it can detect.

No 'God Spot' In Brain, Spirituality Linked To Right Parietal Lobe

This neuroradiological scan shows what an injured right parietal lobe looks like. Individuals with similar injuries to this part of the brain will be less focused on the self, and more likely to be able to experience spiritual connection with a higher power/nature, depending on their faith tradition. 
Spirituality And Brain
Scientists have speculated that the human brain features a “God spot,” one distinct area of the brain responsible for spirituality. Now, University of Missouri researchers have completed research that indicates spirituality is a complex phenomenon, and multiple areas of the brain are responsible for the many aspects of spiritual experiences.
“We have found a neuropsychological basis for spirituality, but it’s not isolated to one specific area of the brain,” said Brick Johnstone, professor of health psychology in the School of Health Professions. “Spirituality is a much more dynamic concept that uses many parts of the brain. Certain parts of the brain play more predominant roles, but they all work together to facilitate individuals’ spiritual experiences.”
In the most recent study, Johnstone studied 20 people with traumatic brain injuries affecting the right parietal lobe, the area of the brain situated a few inches above the right ear. He surveyed participants on characteristics of spirituality, such as how close they felt to a higher power and if they felt their lives were part of a divine plan. He found that the participants with more significant injury to their right parietal lobe showed an increased feeling of closeness to a higher power.
“Neuropsychology researchers consistently have shown that impairment on the right side of the brain decreases one’s focus on the self,” Johnstone said. “Since our research shows that people with this impairment are more spiritual, this suggests spiritual experiences are associated with a decreased focus on the self. This is consistent with many religious texts that suggest people should concentrate on the well-being of others rather than on themselves.”
Johnstone says the right side of the brain is associated with self-orientation, whereas the left side is associated with how individuals relate to others. Although Johnstone studied people with brain injury, previous studies of Buddhist meditators and Franciscan nuns with normal brain function have shown that people can learn to minimize the functioning of the right side of their brains to increase their spiritual connections during meditation and prayer.
Johnstone makes the comparison to other kinds of disciplines; "It is like playing the piano, the more you train your brain, the more the brain becomes predisposed to piano playing. Practice makes perfect."
While researchers have been focused on finding a 'God spot' in the brain, the new research suggests that it might be better to focus on the neuropsychological questions of self focus vs selfless focus. As Prof. Johnstone explains: "when the brain focuses less on the the self (by decreased activity in the right lobe) it is by definition a moment of self-transcendence and can be understood as being connected to God or Nirvana. It is the sensation of feeling like you are part of a bigger thing."
The research does not make claims about spiritual truths but demonstrates the way that the brain allows for different kinds of spiritual experiences that Christians might name God, Buddhists it could be Nirvana, and for atheists it might be the feeling of being connected to the earth.
On the other end of the spectrum, Professor Johnstone admits that for him it is the music of Led Zeppelin that helps him transcend himself: "When I put on my headphones and listen to "Stairway to Heaven" I just get lost."

New Brain-Machine Interface Moves a Paralyzed Hand

New technology bypasses spinal cord and delivers electrical signals from brain directly to muscles.

CHICAGO --- A new Northwestern Medicine brain-machine technology delivers messages from the brain directly to the muscles -- bypassing the spinal cord -- to enable voluntary and complex movement of a paralyzed hand. The device could eventually be tested on, and perhaps aid, paralyzed patients.

"We are eavesdropping on the natural electrical signals from the brain that tell the arm and hand how to move, and sending those signals directly to the muscles," said Lee E. Miller, the Edgar C. Stuntz Distinguished Professor in Neuroscience at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and the lead investigator of the study, which was published in Nature. "This connection from brain to muscles might someday be used to help patients paralyzed due to spinal cord injury perform activities of daily living and achieve greater independence."

The research was done in monkeys, whose electrical brain and muscle signals were recorded by implanted electrodes when they grasped a ball, lifted it and released it into a small tube. Those recordings allowed the researchers to develop an algorithm or "decoder" that enabled them to process the brain signals and predict the patterns of muscle activity when the monkeys wanted to move the ball.

These experiments were performed by Christian Ethier, a post-doctoral fellow, and Emily Oby, a graduate student in neuroscience, both at the Feinberg School of Medicine. The researchers gave the monkeys a local anesthetic to block nerve activity at the elbow, causing temporary, painless paralysis of the hand. With the help of the special devices in the brain and the arm – together called a neuroprosthesis -- the monkeys' brain signals were used to control tiny electric currents delivered in less than 40 milliseconds to their muscles, causing them to contract, and allowing the monkeys to pick up the ball and complete the task nearly as well as they did before.

"The monkey won't use his hand perfectly, but there is a process of motor learning that we think is very similar to the process you go through when you learn to use a new computer mouse or a different tennis racquet. Things are different and you learn to adjust to them," said Miller, also a professor of physiology and of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Feinberg and a Sensory Motor Performance Program lab chief at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

Because the researchers computed the relationship between brain activity and muscle activity, the neuroprosthesis actually senses and interprets a variety of movements a monkey may want to make, theoretically enabling it to make a range of voluntary hand movements.

"This gives the monkey voluntary control of his hand that is not possible with the current clinical prostheses," Miller said.
The Freehand prosthesis is one of several prostheses available to patients paralyzed by spinal cord injuries that are intended to restore the ability to grasp. Provided these patients can still move their shoulders, an upward shrug stimulates the electrodes to make the hand close, a shrug down stimulates the muscles to make the hand open. The patient also is able to select whether the prosthesis provides a power grasp in which all the fingers are curled around an object like a drinking glass, or a key grasp in which a thin object like a key is grasped between the thumb and curled index finger.

In the new system Miller and his team have designed, a tiny implant called a multi-electrode array detects the activity of about 100 neurons in the brain and serves as the interface between the brain and a computer that deciphers the signals that generate hand movements.

"We can extract a remarkable amount of information from only 100 neurons, even though there are literally a million neurons involved in making that movement," Miller said. "One reason is that these are output neurons that normally send signals to the muscles. Behind these neurons are many others that are making the calculations the brain needs in order to control movement. We are looking at the end result from all those calculations."

First study to quantify effects of AD plaques on brain networks in animal model

Scientists studying the way Alzheimer's takes root in the brain have identified important new similarities between a mouse model and human Alzheimer's.
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have shown that brain plaques in mice are associated with disruption of the ability of brain regions to network with each other. This decline parallels earlier results from human studies, suggesting that what scientists learn about Alzheimer's effects on brain networks in the mice will likely be transferable to human disease research.
The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, is among the first to precisely quantify the effects of Alzheimer's disease plaques on brain networks in an animal model. Until now, scientists studying Alzheimer's in animals have generally been limited to assessments of structural brain damage and analyses of brain cell activity levels.
"Precise measurement of changes in brain networks are critical to understanding Alzheimer's and will likely be important in models of other neurodegenerative disorders," says senior author David M. Holtzman, MD, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and head of the Department of Neurology. "For example, we can now test whether blocking Alzheimer's plaques from building up in the mouse brain prevents disruptions in brain networks."
In humans, scientists assess the integrity of brain networks by monitoring cerebral blood flow with functional magnetic resonance imaging scans. When the brain is idle, blood flow rises and falls in sync in brain regions that network with each other, a phenomenon called functional connectivity. These links are believed to be an important component of normal brain activity. In humans, problems in functional connectivity appear to presage the development of dementia.
Applying the same technique to mice can be very challenging, according to Holtzman. Instead, researchers used an approach for monitoring brain blood flow in mice recently developed by the lab of Joseph Culver, PhD, associate professor of radiology at Washington University. The technique involves mounting a ring with light-emitting diodes on the head of a lightly anesthetized mouse. Sensors in the ring monitor light that is reflected back from hemoglobin molecules flowing through blood vessels in the brain. This data can be used to quickly assess blood flow.
Researchers applied the approach to a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease. They found that the brain regions with the strongest network connections in young mice developed the most plaques as the mice aged. As plaques accumulated in these regions, functional connectivity declined. Scientists have already found similar results in humans using functional magnetic resonance imaging.
A link between stronger brain networking in young mice and increased signs of Alzheimer's in older mice may seem contradictory, but it echoes earlier studies in Holtzman's laboratory that linked higher activity levels in individual brain cells to increased plaque deposition.
Holtzman and others have speculated that the types of information and functions encoded in the activities of brain cells and networks may affect their impact on Alzheimer's risk. Epidemiological studies have shown that brain stimulation, such as puzzles, reading or learning, is associated with reduced risk of Alzheimer's. Leaving the brain idle for long periods of time may increase risk.
The mice studied in the research have a mutated form of a human protein, Alzheimer's precursor protein, that causes them to develop brain plaques. Other mouse models have mutated versions of a protein called tau that lead to the development of neurofibrillary tangles, which are another hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.
Holtzman, Culver and colleagues plan to test functional connectivity in mouse models with mutated versions of human tau. The results may help determine the effects of additional types of protein aggregates in the brain, according to Holtzman.
"Important new insights into the normal and dysfunctional human brain have been made via studies of functional connectivity," Holtzman says. "Being able to analyze brain function from a similar perspective in animal models, where we have much more freedom to manipulate genes and proteins, should be very helpful in our efforts to understand and treat complex conditions like Alzheimer's disease."

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Brain-Injury Data Used to Map Intelligence in the Brain

TEHRAN (FNA)- Scientists report that they have mapped the physical architecture of intelligence in the brain. Theirs is one of the largest and most comprehensive analyses so far of the brain structures vital to general intelligence and to specific aspects of intellectual functioning, such as verbal comprehension and working memory.

Their study, published in Brain: A Journal of Neurology, is unique in that it enlisted an extraordinary pool of volunteer participants: 182 Vietnam veterans with highly localized brain damage from penetrating head injuries.

"It's a significant challenge to find patients (for research) who have brain damage, and even further, it's very hard to find patients who have focal brain damage," said University of Illinois neuroscience professor Aron Barbey, who led the study. Brain damage -- from stroke, for example -- often impairs multiple brain areas, he said, complicating the task of identifying the cognitive contributions of specific brain structures.

But the very focal brain injuries analyzed in the study allowed the researchers "to draw inferences about how specific brain structures are necessary for performance," Barbey said. "By studying how damage to particular brain regions produces specific forms of cognitive impairment, we can map the architecture of the mind, identifying brain structures that are critically important for specific intellectual abilities."

The researchers took CT scans of the participants' brains and administered an extensive battery of cognitive tests. They pooled the CT data to produce a collective map of the cortex, which they divided into more than 3,000 three-dimensional units called voxels. By analyzing multiple patients with damage to a particular voxel or cluster of voxels and comparing their cognitive abilities with those of patients in whom the same structures were intact, the researchers were able to identify brain regions essential to specific cognitive functions, and those structures that contribute significantly to intelligence.

"We found that general intelligence depends on a remarkably circumscribed neural system," Barbey said. "Several brain regions, and the connections between them, were most important for general intelligence."

These structures are located primarily within the left prefrontal cortex (behind the forehead), left temporal cortex (behind the ear) and left parietal cortex (at the top rear of the head) and in "white matter association tracts" that connect them.

The researchers also found that brain regions for planning, self-control and other aspects of executive function overlap to a significant extent with regions vital to general intelligence.

The study provides new evidence that intelligence relies not on one brain region or even the brain as a whole, Barbey said, but involves specific brain areas working together in a coordinated fashion.
"In fact, the particular regions and connections we found support an emerging body of neuroscience evidence indicating that intelligence depends on the brain's ability to integrate information from verbal, visual, spatial and executive processes," he said.

Monday, April 9, 2012

10 really cool things about the human brain

The human brain is the most complex and least understood part of the human anatomy. There may be a lot we don’t know, but here are a few interesting facts that we’ve got covered.
  1. Nerve impulses to and from the brain travel as fast as 170 miles per hour. Ever wonder how you can react so fast to things around you or why that stubbed toe hurts right away? It’s due to the super-speedy movement of nerve impulses from your brain to the rest of your body and vice versa, bringing reactions at the speed of a high powered luxury sports car.
  2. The brain operates on the same amount of power as 10-watt light bulb. The cartoon image of a light bulb over your head when a great thought occurs isn’t too far off the mark. Your brain generates as much energy as a small light bulb even when you’re sleeping.
  3. The human brain cell can hold 5 times as much information as the Encyclopedia Britannica. Or any other encyclopedia for that matter. Scientists have yet to settle on a definitive amount, but the storage capacity of the brain in electronic terms is thought to be between 3 or even 1,000 terabytes. The National Archives of Britain, containing over 900 years of history, only takes up 70 terabytes, making your brain’s memory power pretty darn impressive.
  4. Your brain uses 20% of the oxygen that enters your bloodstream. The brain only makes up about 2% of our body mass, yet consumes more oxygen than any other organ in the body, making it extremely susceptible to damage related to oxygen deprivation. So breathe deep to keep your brain happy and swimming in oxygenated cells.
  5. The brain is much more active at night than during the day. Logically, you would think that all the moving around, complicated calculations and tasks and general interaction we do on a daily basis during our working hours would take a lot more brain power than, say, lying in bed. Turns out, the opposite is true. When you turn off your brain turns on. Scientists don’t yet know why this is but you can thank the hard work of your brain while you sleep for all those pleasant dreams.
  6. Scientists say the higher your I.Q. the more you dream. While this may be true, don’t take it as a sign you’re mentally lacking if you can’t recall your dreams. Most of us don’t remember many of our dreams and the average length of most dreams is only 2-3 seconds–barely long enough to register.
  7. Neurons continue to grow throughout human life. For years scientists and doctors thought that brain and neural tissue couldn’t grow or regenerate. While it doesn’t act in the same manner as tissues in many other parts of the body, neurons can and do grow throughout your life, adding a whole new dimension to the study of the brain and the illnesses that affect it.
  8. Information travels at different speeds within different types of neurons. Not all neurons are the same. There are a few different types within the body and transmission along these different kinds can be as slow as 0.5 meters/sec or as fast as 120 meters/sec.
  9. The brain itself cannot feel pain. While the brain might be the pain center when you cut your finger or burn yourself, the brain itself does not have pain receptors and cannot feel pain. That doesn’t mean your head can’t hurt. The brain is surrounded by loads of tissues, nerves and blood vessels that are plenty receptive to pain and can give you a pounding headache.
  10. 80% of the brain is water. Your brain isn’t the firm, gray mass you’ve seen on TV. Living brain tissue is a squishy, pink and jelly-like organ thanks to the loads of blood and high water content of the tissue. So the next time you’re feeling dehydrated get a drink to keep your brain hydrated.