Monday, April 24, 2017
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif., April 24, 2017 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Internationally-acclaimed neuroscientist Dr. Michael Merzenich will unveil a new approach to fighting dementia to a global gathering of experts in Kyoto, Japan this week. Dr. Merzenich is the Chief Scientific Officer of Posit Science, maker of BrainHQ brain exercises and assessments.
Dr. Merzenich will be the featured speaker at a luncheon symposium on Saturday at 12:45 pm, Kyoto time at the 32nd Annual Alzheimer’s Disease International conference.
“It is increasingly evident that we should not expect an imminent breakthrough from pharmaceuticals,” Dr. Merzenich observes. “We need to take a new path in addressing dementia.”
“We don’t have a magic pill to prevent or cure heart disease, and, instead look to behavioral changes to reduce risk and early interventions to address symptoms,” according to Dr. Merzenich. “There is a rapidly growing consensus among thought leaders that we need a similar approach to cognitive decline. That approach will include nutrition, physical exercise and environmental factors – but the single most important elements will be lifelong monitoring of brain health and appropriate brain exercises.”
In his lecture, Dr. Merzenich will discuss recent studies on the impact of BrainHQ plasticity-based brain training on aging and cognition. Such studies have shown that plasticity-based brain training can lead to better performance by older adults on standard measures of cognition (e.g., speed, attention, memory) with benefits that transfer to many real world activities (e.g., balance, driving, everyday tasks) and quality of life (e.g., mood, confidence, self-rated health). He will also discuss the impact of BrainHQ exercises in a recent 2800-person study in dementia prevention, and a group of studies in mild cognitive impairment and other forms of pre-dementia.
“I expect that within the next few years people will have the ability to monitor their brain health on a daily basis and take appropriate action to maintain their brain health with a device they carry in their pocket – a phone with apps to assess current condition and to suggest and deliver the right brain exercises,” adds Dr. Merzenich. “This technology already exists, and all the pieces are coming together.”
Dr. Merzenich is professor emeritus at University of California San Francisco, where he maintained a research lab for three decades. He ran the seminal experiments that led to the discovery of lifelong plasticity – the ability of the brain to change chemically, structurally and functionally based on sensory and other inputs. He pioneered harnessing the power of plasticity in the co-invention of the cochlear implant, which has restored hearing to 100,000s of people living with deafness.
Dr. Merzenich also pioneered the application of plasticity in the development of plasticity-based computerized brain exercises, which have helped millions of people.
His body of work has led to many honors. For example, he has been elected to both the US National Academy of Sciences and the US National Academy of Medicine. In the past two years, he has been awarded the Russ Prize, the highest honor in bioengineering, by the US National Academy of Engineers, and the Kavli Laureate, the highest honor in neuroscience, by the King of Norway.
Dr. Merzenich frequently appears in print and broadcast media, including television specials on public television in the US and Australia. He is author of many scientific articles, chapters and books, including Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life.
Dr. Merzenich directs research and development at Posit Science, where he is Co-founder, Chairman and Chief Scientific Officer. There are more than 140 peer-reviewed medical and science journal articles on the benefits of BrainHQ exercises and assessments. Scores of additional studies are in progress.
BrainHQ exercises are offered all over the world (including in Japan) to healthy people interested in improving their cognitive performance. Posit Science also maintains a research program aimed at finding new ways to address specific diseases and disorders. As such research advances, Posit Science plans to approach appropriate regulatory agencies to explore the shortest path to getting a form of relevant exercises into the hands of patients who may be helped.
Cells in the brain's master circadian clock synchronize voltage rhythms despite asynchronous calcium rhythms, which might explain how a tissue-wide rhythm is maintained.
A network of thousands of neurons forms a tissue called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) within the brain. The SCN, functioning as the master circadian clock, is responsible for generating daily rhythms in physiology and behaviour including sleep patterns.
Neurons in the SCN generate oscillatory signals that are sent out to different parts of the brain and other organs throughout the body. Sending signals involves fluxing calcium ion concentrations inside and outside the nerve cell, and generating a charge difference that then sparks an electrical impulse that is fired down the neuron. The charge difference is measured in volts.
A team of researchers at Hokkaido University and colleagues in Japan successfully measured voltage changes in SCN cells over several days. Previous methods were more indirect to measure the neuronal activities or yielded insufficient spatial information.
The team introduced a gene that encoded "voltage sensors" into cultured SCN slices from newborn mice. The sensors are formed by fusing a fluorescent protein with another protein that can sense voltage. The intensity of the sensor's fluorescence changes significantly with changes in voltage, which can be detected by a special microscope.
The voltage rhythms were found to be synchronized throughout the cultured SCN tissue. The voltage changes were measured using fluorescent sensor proteins for 72 hours.
The team was surprised to find that voltage rhythms were synchronized across the entire SCN. "This was unexpected because previous research found neuron groups in various SCN regions express circadian rhythm genes differently," says Ryosuke Enoki at Hokkaido University
While measuring voltage changes, the researchers simultaneously measured calcium ion concentrations across cell membranes and found they, similar to so-called "clock genes," were not synchronized across the entire SCN. This finding supports previous research. The researchers suggest in their study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the SCN could be maintaining a network-wide coherent rhythm through synchronous voltage changes.
"Inter-cellular interactions within the SCN could be in play in synchronizing voltage rhythms separate from asynchronous calcium rhythms. Further research is necessary to elucidate the mechanism and its physiological roles in maintaining the body's circadian clock," Enoki commented.