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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Neuroscientists Wirelessly Control the Brain of a Scampering Lab Mouse

Neuroscientists Wirelessly Control the Brain of a Scampering Lab Mouse | Amazing Science |

Researchers use tiny LED devices implanted in a mouse’s head and on a nerve in its leg [middle] to stimulate genetically altered neurons that respond to flashes of light. This optogenetic technology gives researchers a way to “turn on” precise groups of neurons and study the results. These wirelessly powered implants are about the size of peppercorns, so they don’t weigh down the mice or change their behavior.

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How a tiny mutation in the ARHGAP11B gene helped grow our big human brain

How a tiny mutation in the ARHGAP11B gene helped grow our big human brain | Amazing Science |

After splitting from the chimpanzee lineage, a single letter of our genome switched to another – and likely shaped the evolutionary expansion of the human.


The gene ARHGAP11B promotes basal progenitor amplification and is implicated in neocortex expansion. It arose on the human evolutionary lineage by partial duplication ofARHGAP11A, which encodes a Rho guanosine triphosphatase–activating protein (RhoGAP). However, a lack of 55 nucleotides in ARHGAP11B mRNA leads to loss of RhoGAP activity by GAP domain truncation and addition of a human-specific carboxy-terminal amino acid sequence.


Scientists now show that these 55 nucleotides are deleted by mRNA splicing due to a single C→G substitution that creates a novel splice donor site. They reconstructed an ancestral ARHGAP11B complementary DNA without this substitution. Ancestral ARHGAP11B exhibits RhoGAP activity but has no ability to increase basal progenitors during neocortex development. Hence, a single nucleotide substitution underlies the specific properties of ARHGAP11B that likely contributed to the evolutionary expansion of the human neocortex.

Carlos Garcia Pando's comment, December 11, 2016 12:23 PM
Is this a case of progressive evolution? I think this is a clear case of random error: just a sigle base change (C for G) with such a great impact.
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Small RNA identified that offers clues for quieting the “voices” of schizophrenia

Small RNA identified that offers clues for quieting the “voices” of schizophrenia | Amazing Science |

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital scientists have identified a small RNA (microRNA) that may be essential to restoring normal function in a brain circuit associated with the “voices” and other hallucinations of schizophrenia. The microRNA provides a possible focus for antipsychotic drug development. The findings appear today in the journal Nature Medicine.


The work was done in a mouse model of a human disorder that is one of the genetic causes of schizophrenia. Building on previous St. Jude research, the results offer important new details about the molecular mechanism that disrupts the flow of information along a neural circuit connecting two brain regions involved in processing auditory information. The findings also provide clues about why psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia are often delayed until late adolescence or early adulthood.


“In 2014, we identified the specific circuit in the brain that is targeted by antipsychotic drugs. However, the existing antipsychotics also cause devastating side effects,” said corresponding author Stanislav Zakharenko, M.D., Ph.D., a member of the St. Jude Department ofDevelopmental Neurobiology. “In this study, we identified the microRNA that is a key player in disruption of that circuit and showed that depletion of the microRNA was necessary and sufficient to inhibit normal functioning of the circuit in the mouse models.


“We also found evidence suggesting that the microRNA, named miR-338-3p, could be targeted for development of a new class of antipsychotic drugs with fewer side effects.”


There are more than 2,000 microRNAs whose function is to silence expression of particular genes and regulate the supply of the corresponding proteins. Working in a mouse model of 22q11 deletion syndrome, researchers identified miR-338-3p as the microRNA that regulates production of the protein D2 dopamine receptor (Drd2), which is the prime target of antipsychotics.

Via Integrated DNA Technologies
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Scientists find key protein for spinal cord repair in zebrafish

Scientists find key protein for spinal cord repair in zebrafish | Amazing Science |

Unlike mammals, zebrafish efficiently regenerate functional nervous system tissue after major spinal cord injury. Whereas glial scarring presents a roadblock for mammalian spinal cord repair, glial cells in zebrafish form a bridge across severed spinal cord tissue and facilitate regeneration. Scientists now performed a genome-wide profiling screen for secreted factors that are up-regulated during zebrafish spinal cord regeneration. They found that connective tissue growth factor A (ctgfa) is induced in and around glial cells that participate in initial bridging events. Mutations in ctgfa disrupted spinal cord repair, and transgenic ctgfa overexpression and local delivery of human CTGF recombinant protein accelerated bridging and functional regeneration. This study reveals that CTGF is necessary and sufficient to stimulate glial bridging and natural spinal cord regeneration.

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Recent research shows brain-to-text device capable of decoding speech from brain signals

Recent research shows brain-to-text device capable of decoding speech from brain signals | Amazing Science |

Ever wondered what it would be like if a device could decode your thoughts into actual speech or written words? While this might enhance the capabilities of already existing speech interfaces with devices, it could be a potential game-changer for those with speech pathologies, and even more so for "locked-in" patients who lack any speech or motor function. "So instead of saying 'Siri, what is the weather like today' or 'Ok Google, where can I go for lunch?' I just imagine saying these things," explains Christian Herff, author of a review recently published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.


While reading one's thoughts might still belong to the realms of science fiction, scientists are already decoding speech from signals generated in our brains when we speak or listen to speech. In their review, Herff and co-author, Dr. Tanja Schultz, compare the pros and cons of using various brain imaging techniques to capture neural signals from the brain and then decode them to text.


The technologies include functional MRI and near infrared imaging that can detect neural signals based on metabolic activity of neurons, to methods such as EEG and magnetoencephalography (MEG) that can detect electromagnetic activity of neurons responding to speech. One method in particular, called electrocorticography or ECoG, showed promise in Herff's study.


This study presents the Brain-to-text system in which epilepsy patients who already had electrode grids implanted for treatment of their condition participated. They read out texts presented on a screen in front of them while their brain activity was recorded. This formed the basis of a database of patterns of neural signals that could now be matched to speech elements or "phones."


When the researchers also included language and dictionary models in their algorithms, they were able to decode neural signals to text with a high degree of accuracy. "For the first time, we could show that brain activity can be decoded specifically enough to use ASR technology on brain signals," says Herff. "However, the current need for implanted electrodes renders it far from usable in day-to-day life."


So, where does the field go from here to a functioning thought detection device? "A first milestone would be to actually decode imagined phrases from brain activity, but a lot of technical issues need to be solved for that," concedes Herff. Their study results, while exciting, are still only a preliminary step towards this type of brain-computer interface.


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Engineers reveal fabrication process for revolutionary transparent graphene neural sensors

Engineers reveal fabrication process for revolutionary transparent graphene neural sensors | Amazing Science |
A blue light shines through a transparent, implantable medical sensor onto a brain. The invention may help neural researchers better view brain activity.


In an open-access paper published Thursday (Oct. 13, 2016) in the journal Nature Protocols, University of Wisconsin–Madison engineers have published details of how to fabricate and use neural microelectrocorticography (μECoG) arrays made with transparent graphene in applications in electrophysiology, fluorescent microscopy, optical coherence tomography, and optogenetics.


Graphene is one of the most promising candidates for transparent neural electrodes, because the material has a UV to IR transparency of more than 90%, in addition to its high electrical and thermal conductivity, flexibility, and biocompatibility, the researchers note in the paper. That allows for simultaneous high-resolution imaging and optogenetic control.


The procedures in the paper are for a graphene μECoG electrode array implanted on the surface of the cerebral cortex and can be completed within 3–4 weeks by an experienced graduate student, according to the researchers. But this protocol “may be amenable to fabrication and testing of a multitude of other electrode arrays used in biological research, such as penetrating neural electrode arrays to study deep brain, nerve cuffs that are used to interface with the peripheral nervous system (PNS), or devices that interface with the muscular system,” according to the paper.


The researchers first announced the breakthrough in the open-access journal Nature Communications in 2014, asKurzweilAI reported. Now, the UW–Madison researchers are looking at ways to improve and build upon the technology. They also are seeking to expand its applications from neuroscience into areas such as research of stroke, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, cardiac conditions, and many others. And they hope other researchers do the same.

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Harvard-MIT Bio-engineers grow 3D brain tissue in lab

Harvard-MIT Bio-engineers grow 3D brain tissue in lab | Amazing Science |

Biomedical engineers from Harvard and MIT have managed to grow three-dimensional brain tissue in a lab using a simple and inexpensive technique. The research team borrowed processes from the semiconductor industry to create layered stacks of the tissue. The development will allow fellow scientists to study things like neuron development, as well as model the effects of drug treatments on individual patients. "We think that by bringing this kind of control and manipulation into neurobiology, we can investigate many different directions," said Utkan Demirci, part of the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST).



Brain tissue's intricate and diverse structure meant the team needed to find a way to replicate its architectural complexity. Cells taken from the primary cortex of rats were embedded in hydrogel sheets alongside structural support components. These layers were then stacked and sealed into the required 3D shapes using light. The result is a cube of tissue containing a "diverse repertoire of brain cells" which occur in the same ratios as in natural brain tissue. The researchers eventually hope to build a cubic millimeter of tissue which would comprise of around 100,000 cells and 900,000 million connections.

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Bizarre Human Brain With No Wrinkles Discovered

Bizarre Human Brain With No Wrinkles Discovered | Amazing Science |

While photographing shelves of human brains stored away in a closet at the University of Texas for his next book, Adam Voorhes happened upon a truly unique find: a brain with no folds. David Dexter, scientific director at Parkinson's UK Brain Bank, told New Scientist that he had never seen an adult brain like this before: "We do get the odd individual where certain sulci are missing but nothing to the extent of this brain.”


The lack of grooves (sulci) and folds (gyri) that characterize a human brain are due to a rare condition calledlissencephaly. The disorder is caused by abnormal neuronal migration during embryonic development.


To learn more about this rare find, Voorhes spent over a year trying to hunt down the details of this and the approximately 100 other human brains in the collection. He sifted through a century’s worth of documents and found a history rife with battle for ownership of the collection. However, nothing about the specific individual came to light. 


People with similar though less extensive forms of lissencephaly often experience difficulty swallowing, muscle spasms, seizures, and learning difficulties. Many individuals with this condition die before the age of 10. 


All the brains in the collection are from patients at the Austin State Mental Hospital and were subsequently preserved in jars of formaldehyde. For more than 20 years, the brains were forgotten about in a dark closet somewhere in the back of an animal lab. While all the rediscovered brains are considered disfigured or abnormal in some way, a brain with so few folds and grooves is a rarity amongst the rare. 

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Barcode trick traces paths of thousands of neurons in brain 

Barcode trick traces paths of thousands of neurons in brain  | Amazing Science |

A new method allows researchers to rapidly map the routes of thousands of neurons in the brain1. The technique, described 7 September in Neuron, could reveal the arrangement of individual neurons in networks that underlie behaviors altered in autism.

Neurons send information through long projections called axons. These projections can be short, connecting neighboring cells, or long, linking distant brain regions.


Researchers can visualize axons by infecting neurons with a virus that emits a colorful glow under a microscope. But visually tracing each cell’s projection through large swaths of brain tissue takes months, and having a limited palette of fluorescent proteins means researchers can track only 5 to 10 cells in a single experiment.


With the new tool, called MAPseq, researchers can quickly — in less than a week — deduce the paths of thousands of neurons by swapping color codes for genetic barcodes. Viruses deliver the barcodes, which are random RNA sequences, into neurons.


The viruses also carry the code for a protein designed to transport RNA molecules to the end of an axon. When the virus infects a neuron, the cell produces the protein, which shuttles the RNA down the axon.


In addition, the viruses express a green fluorescent protein, allowing the researchers to see which cells have picked up a barcode.

Via Integrated DNA Technologies
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Allen Institute publishes highest resolution map of the entire human brain to date

Allen Institute publishes highest resolution map of the entire human brain to date | Amazing Science |

The Allen Institute for Brain Science has published the highest resolution atlas of the human brain to date in a stand-alone issue of the Journal of Comparative Neurology. This digital human brain atlas allows researchers to investigate the structural basis of human brain function.


“To understand the human brain, we need to have a detailed description of its underlying structure,” says Ed Lein, Ph.D., Investigator at the Allen Institute for Brain Science. “Human brain atlases have long lagged behind atlases of the brain of worms, flies or mice, both in terms of spatial resolution and in terms of completeness due to technical limitations related to the enormous size and complexity of the human brain. This large-scale focused effort aimed to create a large resource combining different data types at high resolution, and use these data to generate a comprehensive mapping of brain regions.” 


Combining neuroimaging with cellular resolution histological analysis and expert structural mapping, “This is the most structurally complete atlas to date and we hope it will serve as a new reference standard for the human brain across different disciplines,” says Lein.


To create this modern atlas, the team at the Allen Institute partnered with Bruce Fischl, Ph.D. at Massachusetts General Hospital to perform magnetic resonance and diffusion tensor imaging on an intact brain before it was cut into slabs and serially sectioned to allow histological staining of individual sections. This imaging on the same brain created opportunities for linking fine molecular and cellular studies of the brain in health and disease with non-invasive neuroimaging studies. 


The Allen Human Brain Reference Atlas aimed to advance human brain mapping by digitizing the histological data at true cellular microscopic resolution, creating a complete ontology of brain regions, and delineating all brain regions on a series of cross-sections through the brain. To image these sections, the Allen Institute team had to develop a new tile-based scanner that could image tissue sections the size of a complete human brain hemisphere at the resolution of roughly a hundredth of the width of a human hair. The atlas was drawn from a single postmortem brain obtained from a 34-year old female donor.

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When Blind People Do Algebra, The Brain's Visual Areas Light Up

When Blind People Do Algebra, The Brain's Visual Areas Light Up | Amazing Science |

People born without sight appear to solve math problems using visual areas of the brain. A functional MRI study of 17 people blind since birth found that areas of visual cortex became active when the participants were asked to solve algebra problems, a team from Johns Hopkins reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


"And as the equations get harder and harder, activity in these areas goes up in a blind person," says Marina Bedny, an author of the study and an assistant professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University.


In 19 sighted people doing the same problems, visual areas of the brain showed no increase in activity. "That really suggests that yes, blind individuals appear to be doing math with their visual cortex," Bedny says.

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Intelligent people really are better at chess

Intelligent people really are better at chess | Amazing Science |

A new study offers some of the most conclusive evidence to date that intelligence is linked to chess skill—a hotly debated issue in psychology. The results refute the idea that expertise is based solely on intensive training.


“Chess is probably the single most studied domain in research on expertise, yet the evidence for the relationship between chess skill and cognitive ability is mixed,” says Alexander Burgoyne, a graduate student at Michigan State University and lead author of the study published in the journal Intelligence.


“We analyzed a half-century worth of research on intelligence and chess skill and found that cognitive ability contributes meaningfully to individual differences in chess skill.”


“When it comes to expertise, training and practice certainly are a piece of the puzzle,” says Zach Hambrick, a psychology professor at Michigan State. “But this study shows that, for chess at least, intelligence is another piece of the puzzle.”


For the in-depth study, known as a meta-analysis, the researchers considered nearly 2,300 scholarly articles on chess skill, looking specifically for studies that included a measure of cognitive ability (such as IQ score) and objective chess skill (such as the Elo rating, which ranks players based on game performance). The final sample included 19 studies with about 1,800 total participants.

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MRI scanner sees emotions flickering across an idle mind

MRI scanner sees emotions flickering across an idle mind | Amazing Science |
As you relax and let your mind drift aimlessly, you might remember a pleasant vacation, an angry confrontation in traffic or maybe the loss of a loved one.


And now a team of researchers at Duke University say they can see those various emotional states flickering across the human brain. "It's getting to be a bit like mind-reading," said Kevin LaBar, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke. "Earlier studies have shown that functional MRI can identify whether a person is thinking about a face or a house. Our study is the first to show that specific emotions like fear and anger can be decoded from these scans as well."


The data produced by a functional MRI hasn't changed, but the group is applying new multivariate statistics to the scans of brain activity to see different emotions as networks of activity distributed across areas of the conscious and unconscious brain.


These networks were first mapped by the team in a March 2015 paper in the journal Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. They identified seven different patterns of brain activity reflecting contentment, amusement, surprise, fear, anger, sadness and neutrality.


To build these maps, they had put 32 research subjects into the scanner and exposed them to two music clips and two film clips that had been shown to induce each of the seven emotions. The subjects also completed self-report questionnaires on their mood states for further validation.


Analytical software called a machine learning algorithm was then presented with some of the subjects' data and tasked with finding a pattern that concurred with each emotional stimulus. Having learned what each of the seven states ought to look like, the algorithm was then presented with the scans of the rest of the study group and asked to identify their emotional states without knowing which emotion prompt they received.


LaBar said the model performed better than chance at this task, despite differences in brain shapes and arousal levels between subjects. "And it proved fairly sensitive," he said.


The latest study, appearing Sept. 14 in Plos Biology, followed up by scanning 21 subjects who were not offered stimuli, but were encouraged to let their minds wander. Every thirty seconds, they responded to a questionnaire about their current emotional state.

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Seat of consciousness: Hierarchical cortical organization of the human brain

Seat of consciousness: Hierarchical cortical organization of the human brain | Amazing Science |

In recent years numerous attempts to understand the human brain were undertaken from a network point of view. A network framework takes into account the relationships between the different parts of the system and enables to examine how global and complex functions might emerge from network topology.


Previous work revealed that the human brain features 'small world' characteristics and that cortical hubs tend to interconnect among themselves. However, in order to fully understand the topological structure of hubs, and how their profile reflect the brain's global functional organization, one needs to go beyond the properties of a specific hub and examine the various structural layers that make up the network. To address this topic further, we applied an analysis known in statistical physics and network theory as k-shell decomposition analysis.


The analysis was applied on a human cortical network, derived from MRI\DSI data of six participants. Such analysis enables us to portray a detailed account of cortical connectivity focusing on different neighborhoods of inter-connected layers across the cortex. Our findings reveal that the human cortex is highly connected and efficient, and unlike the internet network contains no isolated nodes. The cortical network is comprised of a nucleus alongside shells of increasing connectivity that formed one connected giant component, revealing the human brain's global functional organization. All these components were further categorized into three hierarchies in accordance with their connectivity profile, with each hierarchy reflecting different functional roles.


Such a model may explain an efficient flow of information from the lowest hierarchy to the highest one, with each step enabling increased data integration. At the top, the highest hierarchy (the nucleus) serves as a global interconnected collective and demonstrates high correlation with consciousness related regions, suggesting that the nucleus might serve as a platform for consciousness to emerge.

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A New Spin on the Quantum Brains

A New Spin on the Quantum Brains | Amazing Science |

A new theory explains how fragile quantum states may be able to exist for hours or even days in our warm, wet brain. Experiments should soon test the idea now.


The mere mention of “quantum consciousness” makes most physicists cringe, as the phrase seems to evoke the vague, insipid musings of a New Age guru. But if a new hypothesis proves to be correct, quantum effects might indeed play some role in human cognition. Matthew Fisher, a physicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, raised eyebrows late last year when he published a paper in Annals of Physics proposing that the nuclear spins of phosphorus atoms could serve as rudimentary “qubits” in the brain — which would essentially enable the brain to function like a quantum computer.


As recently as 10 years ago, Fisher’s hypothesis would have been dismissed by many as nonsense. Physicists have been burned by this sort of thing before, most notably in 1989, when Roger Penrose proposed that mysterious protein structures called “microtubules” played a role in human consciousness by exploiting quantum effects. Few researchers believe such a hypothesis plausible. Patricia Churchland, a neurophilosopher at the University of California, San Diego, memorably opined that one might as well invoke “pixie dust in the synapses” to explain human cognition.


Fisher’s hypothesis faces the same daunting obstacle that has plagued microtubules: a phenomenon called quantum decoherence. To build an operating quantum computer, you need to connect qubits — quantum bits of information — in a process called entanglement. But entangled qubits exist in a fragile state. They must be carefully shielded from any noise in the surrounding environment. Just one photon bumping into your qubit would be enough to make the entire system “decohere,” destroying the entanglement and wiping out the quantum properties of the system. It’s challenging enough to do quantum processing in a carefully controlled laboratory environment, never mind the warm, wet, complicated mess that is human biology, where maintaining coherence for sufficiently long periods of time is well nigh impossible.


Over the past decade, however, growing evidence suggests that certain biological systems might employ quantum mechanics. In photosynthesis, for example, quantum effects help plants turn sunlight into fuel. Scientists have also proposed that migratory birds have a “quantum compass” enabling them to exploit Earth’s magnetic fields for navigation, or that the human sense of smell could be rooted in quantum mechanics.


Fisher’s notion of quantum processing in the brain broadly fits into this emerging field of quantum biology. Call it quantum neuroscience. He has developed a complicated hypothesis, incorporating nuclear and quantum physics, organic chemistry, neuroscience and biology. While his ideas have met with plenty of justifiable skepticism, some researchers are starting to pay attention. “Those who read his paper (as I hope many will) are bound to conclude: This old guy’s not so crazy,” wrote John Preskill, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology, after Fisher gave a talk there. “He may be on to something. At least he’s raising some very interesting questions.”


Senthil Todadri, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Fisher’s longtime friend and colleague, is skeptical, but he thinks that Fisher has rephrased the central question — is quantum processing happening in the brain? — in such a way that it lays out a road map to test the hypothesis rigorously. “The general assumption has been that of course there is no quantum information processing that’s possible in the brain,” Todadri said. “He makes the case that there’s precisely one loophole. So the next step is to see if that loophole can be closed.” Indeed, Fisher has begun to bring together a team to do laboratory tests to answer this question once and for all.

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Brain neuroimplant makes primates regain control of paralyzed limb

Brain neuroimplant makes primates regain control of paralyzed limb | Amazing Science |

Non-human primates regain control of their paralyzed leg ­– as early as six days after spinal cord injury – thanks to a neuroprosthetic interface that acts as a wireless bridge between the brain and spine, bypassing the injury. A feasibility clinical study has begun in Switzerland to test the therapeutic effects of the spine-part of the interface in people with spinal cord injury.

On June 23rd, 2015, a primate with spinal cord injury regained control of its paralyzed leg with the help of a neuroprosthetic system called the “brain-spine interface” that bypassed the lesion, restoring communication between the brain and the region of the spinal cord. The results are published today in Nature.


The interface decodes brain activity associated with walking movements and relays this information to the spinal cord ­– below the injury – through electrodes that stimulate the neural pathways that activate leg muscles during natural locomotion.


The neuroprosthetic interface was conceived at EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland, and developed together with an international network of collaborators including Medtronic, Brown University and Fraunhofer ICT-IMM. It was tested in collaboration with the University of Bordeaux, Motac Neuroscience and the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV).


“This is the first time that neurotechnology restores locomotion in primates,” says neuroscientist Grégoire Courtine who led the collaboration and holds the IRP chair in spinal cord repair. “But there are many challenges ahead and it may take several years before all the components of this intervention can be tested in people.”

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Scientists Have Identified a Part of the Brain Responsible for the Placebo Effect

Scientists Have Identified a Part of the Brain Responsible for the Placebo Effect | Amazing Science |

Scientists think they've located a region of the brain that's linked to the placebo effect - a psychological phenomenon where patients feel better because they think they've been given real drugs, when in fact all they've been given is sugar pills.

The findings could not only help researchers identify those who are more likely to experience a placebo effect - it could also lead to more personalised treatments for those suffering from chronic pain, giving scientists a new way to tailor drugs to particular brain types.

Working with 98 volunteers with chronic knee osteoarthritis, the team used a customised functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technique to identify a specific region in the mid-frontal gyrus part of the brain that could be linked to the placebo effect.

From the original pool of volunteers, they then randomly selected 39, and used this technique to try and identify those who responded well to placebo treatments. They were correct 95 percent of the time.

That's important, because being able to accurately identify those who respond well to placebos before a clinical trial gets underway would make a big difference in clinical trials. 

Not only would it allow researchers to eliminate volunteers who might be particularly affected by placebos in a clinical trial, it could also help them get more accurate readings on the effectiveness of drugs by accounting for an individual's placebo effect.

"Given the enormous societal toll of chronic pain, being able to predict placebo responders in a chronic pain population could both help the design of personalised medicine and enhance the success of clinical trials," said team member, Marwan Baliki, from Northwestern University.

In the past, doctors have had to use a trial and error method for choosing drugs to target chronic pain, but this research could help them select treatments that are much more personalised, based on a patient's fMRI scans.

"The new technology will allow physicians to see what part of the brain is activated during an individual’s pain, and choose the specific drug to target this spot," said one of the researchers, A. Vania Apkarian.

"It also will provide more evidence-based measurements. Physicians will be able to measure how the patient's pain region is affected by the drug."

To be clear, the sample size in this study is very small, so it's going to take a much larger pool of volunteers to demonstrate if the technique works as well as it appeared to in these experiments. But the researchers think there's enough evidence here to spark further investigation.

The team also says that because their study looked at long-term pain issues, rather than isolated pain experiments as most other placebo effect studies have, it should be more useful in putting together treatments in the future.

"These results provide some evidence for clinical placebo being predetermined by brain biology, and show that brain imaging may also identify a placebo-corrected prediction of response to active treatment," they write in PLOS Biology.

Now we just need to figure out why the placebo effect happens at all.

Via Kim Frye
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Watching the brain in action real-time

Watching the brain in action real-time | Amazing Science |

Watching millions of neurons in the brain interacting with each other is the ultimate dream of neuroscientists! A new imaging method now makes it possible to observe the activation of large neural circuits, currently up to the size of a small-animal brain, in real time and three dimensions. Researchers at the Helmholtz Zentrum München and the Technical University of Munich have recently reported on their new findings in Nature’s journal ‘Light: Science & Applications’.


Nowadays it is well recognized that most brain functions may not be comprehended through inspection of single neurons. To advance meaningfully, neuroscientists need the ability to monitor the activity of millions of neurons, both individually and collectively. However, such observations were so far not possible due to the limited penetration depth of optical microscopy techniques into a living brain.

A team headed by Prof. Dr. Daniel Razansky, a group leader at the Institute of Biological and Molecular Imaging (IBMI), Helmholtz Zentrum München, and Professor of Molecular Imaging Engineering at the Technical University of Munich, has now found a way to address this challenge. The new method is based on the so-called optoacoustics*, which allows non-invasive interrogation of living tissues at centimeter scale depths.

”We discovered that optoacoustics can be made sensitive to the differences in calcium ion concentrations** resulting from neural activity and devised a rapid functional optoacoustic neuro-tomography (FONT) system that can simultaneously record signals from a very large number of neurons”, said Dr. Xosé Luis Deán-Ben, first author of the study. Experiments performed by the scientists in brains of adult zebrafish (Danio rerio) expressing genetically encoded calcium indicator GCaMP5G demonstrated, for the first time, the fundamental ability to directly track neural dynamics using optoacoustics while overcoming the longstanding penetration barrier of optical imaging in opaque brains. The technique was also able to trace neural activity during unrestrained motion of the animals.

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Real-time, observable MRI delivery updated to improve stem cell therapy for Parkinson's

Real-time, observable MRI delivery updated to improve stem cell therapy for Parkinson's | Amazing Science |

In a study using Real-time intraoperative magnetic resonance imaging (RT-IMRI) to guide the transplantation of induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived neurons into the brains of non-human primates modeled with Parkinson's disease, researchers found that RT-IMRI guidance not only allows for better visualization and monitoring of the procedure, but also helps cell survival.



Induced pluripotent stem cells, a type of stem cell that can be generated directly from adult cells, offer great benefits for regenerative medicine as they propagate indefinitely and can differentiate into a variety of cell types, such as neurons, heart, pancreatic, and liver cells.


In previous studies, the researchers have found that while iPSC-derived neurons provide great opportunities for cell replacement they also present challenges.


"Our team developed an MRI-compatible trajectory guidance system that has been successful for intraoperative MRI," said study lead author Dr. Marina E. Emborg, Preclinical Parkinson's Research Program Center, Wisconsin National Primate Research Center University of Wisconsin-Madison. "We recently upgraded the system for real-time targeting and guidance and, as a result of the improvements, the procedure provides several advances for cell delivery."

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Researchers activate repair program for nerve fibers

Researchers activate repair program for nerve fibers | Amazing Science |

Injuries to the spinal cord can cause paralysis and other permanent disabilities because severed nerve fibers do not regrow. Now, scientists of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) have succeeded in releasing a molecular brake that prevents the regeneration of nerve connections. Treatment of mice with "Pregabalin," a drug that acts upon the growth inhibiting mechanism, caused damaged nerve connections to regenerate. Researchers led by neurobiologist Frank Bradke report on these findings in the journal Neuron.


Human nerve cells are interconnected in a network that extends to all parts of the body. In this way control signals are transmitted from head to toe, while sensory inputs flow in the opposite direction. For this to happen, impulses are passed from neuron to neuron, not unlike a relay race. Damages to this wiring system can have drastic consequences -- particularly if they affect the brain or the spinal cord. This is because the cells of the central nervous system are connected by long projections. When severed, these projections, which are called "axons," are unable to regrow.


Neural pathways that have been injured can only regenerate if new connections arise between the affected cells. In a sense, the neurons have to stretch out their arms, i.e. the axons have to grow. In fact, this happens in the early stages of embryonic development. However, this ability disappears in the adult. Can it be reactivated? This was the question Professor Bradke and co-workers asked themselves. "We started from the hypothesis that neurons actively down-regulate their growth program once they have reached other cells, so that they don't overshoot the mark. This means, there should be a braking mechanism that is triggered as soon as a neuron connects to others," says Dr. Andrea Tedeschi, a member of the Bradke Lab and first author of the current publication.


In mice and cell cultures, the scientists started an extensive search for genes that regulate the growth of neurons. "That was like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack. There are hundreds of active genes in every nerve cell, depending on its stage of development. To analyze the large data set we heavily relied on bioinformatics. To this end, we cooperated closely with colleagues at the University of Bonn," says Bradke. "Ultimately, we were able to identify a promising candidate. This gene, known as Cacna2d2, plays an important role in synapse formation and function, in other words in bridging the final gap between nerve cells." During further experiments, the researchers modified the gene's activity, e.g. by deactivating it. In this way, they were able to prove that Cacna2d2 does actually influence axonal growth and the regeneration of nerve fibers.


Cacna2d2 encodes the blueprint of a protein that is part of a larger molecular complex. The protein anchors ion channels in the cell membrane that regulate the flow of calcium particles into the cell. Calcium levels affect cellular processes such as the release of neurotransmitters. These ion channels are therefore essential for the communication between neurons.

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Lab of Misfits: Illusions

Lab of Misfits: Illusions | Amazing Science |

The beautiful thing about illusions is that they make us realize not only that things are never what they seem, but also that our experiences of the world shape our understanding of it.

The whole concept of an illusion is predicated on a misconception. When you see an illusion, you are entertaining two realities simultaneously. Take the first illusion on this page, for example: you see one reality (two grey squares that look different) but you also know another reality, namely that the grey squares are, in fact, physically the same. In other words, the brain causes the illusion by in that moment trying to make sense of what the eyes are seeing. You’re in the position of actually experiencing yourself having an experience.

Illusions are useful as a research tool because they tell us how the brain works, that the brain evolved NOT to see the retinal image (which is made up of meaningless, or ambiguous, patterns of light) – i.e. not the world ‘as it is’ – but to see the world in a way that proved useful in the past. It constructs what it knows by searching for useful patterns in sensory information and then associating those patterns with a past record of their behavioral relevance, and then using that information to guide behavior. Which means that the brain is innately a creative and curious machine that evolved to continually redefine normality, a ‘normality’ that is necessarily contextual and historical.

The powerful color, motion and shape illusions on this page have all been created in-house. Feel free to use these images, with proper accreditation.

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Human Neuron Transplants Treat Spinal Cord Injury in Mice

Human Neuron Transplants Treat Spinal Cord Injury in Mice | Amazing Science |

Chronic pain and loss of bladder control are among the most devastating consequences of spinal cord injury, rated by many patients as a higher priority for treatment than paralysis or numbness. Now a UC San Francisco team has transplanted immature human neurons into mice with spinal cord injuries, and shown that the cells successfully wire up with the damaged spinal cord to improve bladder control and reduce pain. This is a key step towards developing cell therapies for spinal cord injury in humans, say the researchers, who are currently working to develop the technique for future clinical trials.


Recent mouse studies have demonstrated that transplants of neurons may be effective treatments for neuropathic pain, epilepsy, and even Parkinson’s disease. The new study – published Sept. 22, 2016, in Cell Stem Cell – is the first to successfully transplant human neurons as a treatment for symptoms of spinal cord injury.


“This is an important proof of principle for using cell therapy to repair damaged neural tissue. It brings us one step closer to using such transplants to bring much needed relief to people with spinal cord injuries,” said co-senior author Arnold Kriegstein, MD, PhD, who is a professor of developmental and stem cell biology and director of the Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF.

Via CineversityTV
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Dogs process vocabulary and intonation in their brains, similar to how humans do it

Dogs process vocabulary and intonation in their brains, similar to how humans do it | Amazing Science |
How do dogs pick up on our tones, gestures, and moods?


Ever gotten the feeling that your dog is listening not just to what you say, but how you say it? You’re not alone among pet owners — and a new study in Science suggests that you’re not wrong, either.


Using fMRI machines, researchers measured the brain activity of dogs as they were given commands. Attila Andics, a neuroscientist at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest and one of the paper’s authors, says the team found that dogs process vocabulary and intonation in different parts of their brains, similar to the way humans do.


“We said ‘Good boy! Good boy!’ [to the dogs],” Andics says. “But we also said ‘Good boy, good boy’ without the praising intonation. And … we used meaningless conjuncture words like ‘however’ or nevertheless’ in a praising intonation — and also some of these meaningless words in a normal intonation. And so we basically we could test for the differences in the brain.”


When the dogs heard praising words in praising intonations, the reward centers of their brain were active, indicating pleasure. This wasn’t the case when praise words were spoken neutrally, Andics says, or when meaningless words were spoken in a praising voice. The findings indicate that dogs can take communication cues straight from our speech.


“It’s as if you are calling your dog on the phone,” Andics says. “[In the study,] they only have the speech information, and they don’t see you or they don’t see your body gestures. They don’t have all the context. This is only word meaning and intonation which is at play here. So we were really surprised to see that they can, in this setting, actually use both of these types of cues.”

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Grand project to unify global efforts to understand the brain

Grand project to unify global efforts to understand the brain | Amazing Science |

A New York neuroscience summit aims to coordinate big money brain projects around the world, but will delegates agree on the field's top priorities?


As brainy gatherings go, it takes some beating. Neuroscientists are meeting in New York today to agree on a global mission to understand the workings of the human brain and how to fix it when something goes wrong. The lofty aim of the Coordinating Global Brain Projects meeting is to unify worldwide efforts to study the brain, in the same way that international collaborations have spurred on astronomy, physics and genetics.


“Neuroscience is coming of age, and it’s now ready for big science,” says Rafael Yuste at Columbia University in New York, who organised today’s meeting with Cori Bargmann at Rockefeller University, also in New York. “This is the first real meeting with all the players in the same room together,” says Yuste.


Among those invited are representatives from charities, private companies and national brain research initiatives. The Global Brain Initiative they want to develop will decide which projects and goals to prioritise, as well as how they should be funded.


”We hope to learn what all the active and planned brain projects are around the world,” says Bargmann. “And we want all leaders of these projects to meet in person, so there’s a human connection for future collaboration,” she says. Yuste hopes that the meeting will establish a standing committee made up of representatives from all the main players. <


Many big, long-term brain research projects have been established worldwide in recent years, including the $6 billionUS BRAIN Initiative, and Europe’s €1 billion Human Brain Project.


Other regions are now entering the fray, with China and Japan both launching major initiatives earlier this year thatseek to understand the human brain by studying monkeys. “China is the big player that hasn’t yet put its cards on the table,” says Yuste.


Reconciling these programmes’ priorities and methods may prove a challenge. There is vociferous opposition to research on primate research in several Western nations, where neuroscientists now tend to work with flies, worms, mice and fish instead. But in China and Japan, research is more focused on primates, our closest animal relatives.


China’s top priority is to discover the basis of human cognition, with new medical treatments and spin-off benefits for computing as secondary goals. The US BRAIN Initiative, by contrast, is focused firmly on providing better resources and tools for experiments, rather than dictating research priorities.


Whatever the differences, the imperative to come together is strong, says Terry Sejnowski of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, who will wrap up the meeting later today. “We need to unite behind a coordinated international brain project bringing together the world’s best and brightest scientists and engineers,” he says.

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Lab-Grown Neurons Could Help Scientists Repair Damaged Brain Tissue

Lab-Grown Neurons Could Help Scientists Repair Damaged Brain Tissue | Amazing Science |
Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are emerging as promising tools for modeling and treating human neural diseases.


IPSCs have two main and unique properties: they can self renew indefinitely and they can become any type of cell of an organism - this is why they are called pluripotent. They have properties similar to those of embryonic stem cells (ESCs) but they are produced from adult cells (such as skin cells, for example) rather than from embryos. Indeed, when skin fibroblasts are cultured in a petri dish under the influence of adequate reprogramming factors, they can be reprogrammed into cells that look like ESCs, but which are pluripotent. This seminal discovery by Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2012

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