BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Brain (Page 1 of 4)

The More You Sit, The More You Forget!

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles recently discovered a linkage between the memory of middle to older aged adults and their sedentary behaviors, actions that require little energy like sitting or lying down.

They concluded that long periods of sitting, like at a desk chair, affects the specific region of the brain that is involved in creating new memories, the medial temporal lobe. The UCLA researchers closely studied 35 people ages 45 to 75 years old, documenting their physical activity for two weeks prior to and during the study.  After the three months of research, they used a high resolution MRI scan and quickly noticed similarities between the thickness of each adult’s medial temporal lobe who spent on average the same amount of hours sitting everyday. The more hours spent sitting, regardless of any physical activity, the more thin the medial temporal lobe. “The participants reported that they spent from 3 to 7 hours, on average, sitting per day. With every hour of sitting each day, there was an observed decrease in brain thickness, according to the study. ”

Even though the findings of this study are preliminary, it suggests that “reducing sedentary behavior may be a possible target for interventions designed to improve brain health in people at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.” Becoming more active is always a great thing, but becoming conscious of how much time you spend being inactive and working to decrease that, could help you out more than you think. There is still more research to be done on this matter but this is a step in the right direction for improving life for those with memory related diseases and improving overall brain health.

To read more check out the full article here!

The Science Behind Decision Making!

I consider myself, like most people, to be extremely indecisive. I also do not do very well when I find myself in stressful last minute decision making scenarios. A study done proves that it has to do with science!! According to a study done at Johns Hopkins University, it has been concluded that last-minute decision making and changing your mind is a complicated neural process involving complex neural coordination and communication among multiple brain areas.

Photo Credit: Affen Ajlfe (www.modup.net/)

 

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, (a technique that monitors brain activity in real time), the research group found that changing your mind about a decision requires ultrafast communication between specific zones of the prefrontal cortex and a region of your brain called the frontal eye field. The frontal eye field is involved in controlling eye movements and visual awareness. The study found that the longer a decision takes to make, the longer it is held in the brain, and therefore the harder it is to reverse. This means that we are less likely to change our minds about a decision we have thought long and hard about.

Kitty Xu, the leader of experiment says  “If we change our mind about pressing the gas pedal even a few milliseconds after the original “go” message has been sent to our muscles, we simply can’t stop.  If we change our minds within roughly 100 milliseconds of making a decision, we can successfully revise our plans. If we wait more than 200 milliseconds, however, we may be unable to make the desired change—”. This finding is used to explain why sometimes, with age, adults are more likely to fall. As we age, our neural communicators slow which contributes to a message not reaching our muscles, or elsewhere fast enough to change our behavior.

The study’s next goal was to identify the brain regions involved in canceling a decision entirely. Participants took part in a fMRI and were instructed to watch a screen and stare at a black dot when it appeared. After focusing on the black dot, a colored dot would appear. The addition of a new stimulus caused the participants to abandon the original directed plan. The researchers watched on the fMRI which parts of the brain lit up during the decision making step to disregard the directions and look at the new dot. They found the prefrontal cortex and the frontal eye fields were the most active brain regions.

Xu hopes that these insights on how difficult it is for the brain to quickly change original plans can eventually lead researchers to find a way to lead us, specifically seniors, to safer decision making!

The Human Brain vs. Chimpanzee Brains – The TH Gene

Well let’s start off with, what is the TH gene? The TH gene is a “protein encoded by this gene is involved in the conversion of tyrosine to dopamine. It is the rate-limiting enzyme in the synthesis of catecholamines, hence plays a key role in the physiology of adrenergic neurons.” How does this even relate to human and chimpanzee brains?

However, here’s a little background to the dimensions of the human brain compared to the chimpanzee brain. Modern humans share about 95% of their genetic code with chimpanzees.  Yet, human brains are three times larger, have many more cells, and would therefore have more processing power than a chimpanzee. Does this mean chimpanzees do not function as efficiently as the human brain or are there just some areas a human brain can be efficient on better as for the chimpanzee brain as well ?

According to two researchers from Yale University, Ying Zhu and André Sousa, TH was found highly expressed in human neocortex, but absent from chimpanzee neocortex. Sousa states, “The neocortical expression of this gene was most likely lost in a common ancestor and reappeared in the human lineage.” Since the gene is absent from the chimpanzee cortex, does this mean that they do not produce any dopamine? Do chimpanzees produce dopamine in a different way?

At the end of the day, we can conclude that human and chimpanzee brains do have a vast majority of similarities. Alternatively, there are certain aspects to the chimpanzee and human brain that allow us to differentiate the two and continue to allow for extensive research in such fields. I challenge you to discover something specific about the human brain and chimpanzee brain that are both extremely similar and different. What will you discover next?

Is Sleep Important?

Photoshop by Bryce Martin from google images.

The next time you decide to stay up at night to play video games or to watch Netflix, you might want to think twice!

Having enough sleep is essential to living a productive and healthy life. Without it, you will suffer in many ways. Sleep does not only make your body tired, but it also makes your brain cells tired. Sleep deprivation slows down brain function, which can result in mental lapses and loss of memory. Lack of sleep will cause the body’s neurons to slow down and not function as they should.

A study done by Dr. Itzhak Fried, professor of neurosurgery at UCLA, showed just how harmful sleep deprivation is.

To study the effects of deprivation, Fried recruited 12 patients with epilepsy, who already had electrodes implanted in their brains from a surgery unrelated to this study. These electrodes gave researchers access to their individual brain cells.

The people in the study stayed up for an entire night. During this time, the researchers measured the participants’ brain activity as they performed different tasks. For example, the patients were asked to categorize various images of faces, places and animals as fast as possible. Each image created a unique pattern of electrical activity in the brain.  Specifically, the researchers focused on cell activity in the temporal lobe, which regulates visual perception and memory.

The researchers found that as the patients stayed up longer, they became more tired, and it became more challenging for them to categorize the images. Their brain cells were clearly beginning to slow down.

The results also showed that the people staying up all night were going through mental lapses because sleep deprivation affected different parts of the brain. For all of these people, parts of their brains were turned off even though the other parts were fully functional.

Fried’s research, in addition to other studies, proves that sleep deprivation is similar to being drunk. Insufficient sleep exerts a similar influence on our brains as drinking too much. Lack of sleep can prohibit people from doing many things such as driving safely. People who are tired are not as alert and cannot react and adapt to their surrounding environment. Kids cannot focus in school and participate in extracurricular activities without enough sleep. Kids will be putting their education at risk if they do not sleep.

Is the extra hour of Netflix really worth it? Absolutely…NOT.

Sleep is one thing that should never be sacrificed.

Clock Change is Actually Great For Your Brain!

November this year, our clocks went back an hour, which accelerated the arrival or darker evenings and seemingly “shorter days”. It doesn’t actually make the days any shorter, in merely just shifted an hour of available daylight from the evening to the morning. Most people take lighter evenings as a priority over lighter mornings, arguments are always made over the benefits for easier travel in lighter evenings from clock changes. However, research suggests that holding onto lighter mornings could give more advantages. Having light in the morning, instead of any other time of the day, leads significant brain-boosting results. In fact, it helps us to function much better.

Early Morning

Credit: Attribution license: Porsche Brosseau

Source

All living animals and plants on Earth revolve their lives around the 24-hour cycle of light and dark. For humans, we desire to sleep during the dark night, and our bodies are honed to environmental light via a biological chain reaction. 

We, humans, detect light intensity by special cells in the retina, then the information is relayed to the internal body clock in the brain, called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. It is in the hypothalamus (which uses the endocrine system to regulate internal body processes), which is linked to hormone secretion, through the pituitary gland. These light messages’ job is to internalize information about light intensity in the surrounding environment.

The chain reaction continues with the brain driving the secretion of the hormone cortisol for a specific time of the day, it is in low levels in the dark and high levels in the light. Cortisol is a very important hormone that has very dramatic effects on the human brain and body. The cortisol is also known as the “Stress hormone” that keeps us healthy through its 24-hour pattern.

The cortisol awakening response(CAR) occurs the first 30 minutes of waking up, it is a strong burst in cortisol secretion. The lighter the mornings, the bigger the CAR. Which directly results in a better functioning brain throughout the day. In an experiment, people who have greater seasonal depression, stress, anxiety and lower arousal exhibited the lowest winter CARs. But when they are exposed to artificial light during their awakenings, their CAR was restored. Thus proving that morning light is the most effective treatment for the winter blues.

Other research has also shown that CAR in the morning is directly linked to better brain plasticity, better goal-setting, decision-making and executive function.

The burst of cortisol secretion in the morning sweeps throughout the entire body where it is recognized by receptors on all body cells. The receptors then generate the biological chain reaction to allow us to function better for the day ahead. A lack of light in the morning can make us feel not functioning fully, and an exposure to light in the morning is extremely beneficial.

Source:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-the-clocks-changing-are-great-for-your-brain/

Potential New Treatment Strategy for Brain Cancer!

Cancer is a disease characterized by the up-regulation of cell growth and it usually develops when normal cells are not able to repair damaged genetic material. New studies are revealing insights into the function of genetic mutations commonly found in a form of brain cancer, specifically the IDH mutation. Isocitrate Dehydrogenase(IDH) is a metabolic enzyme found in more than 70% of low grade gliomas and secondary glioblastomas, types of malignant brain tumors. In a normal cell, IDH enzymes help to break down nutrients and generate energy cells. When mutated, IDH creates a molecule that alters cells genetic programming and instead of maturing, the cell remain primitive. Studies have shown that cells holding this mutation also have an impaired ability to repair DNA. Strangely enough, low grade gliomas that have the IDH mutation are typically more sensitive to chemotherapy than those that lack the mutation. Why does this occur? We still don’t really know the answer.  Yet, researchers have discovered a potential new treatment option for the glial cells harvesting the IDH mutation– PARP Inhibitors.   A super cool future is waiting ahead.

When treating the IDH mutated cells with PARP Inhibitors, a substance in the form of a drug that blocks an enzyme called PARP, the cells were effectively killed. When the drug blocks PARP, it keeps the cancer cells from repairing their damaged DNA, and eventually they die off. The cells are extremely sensitive after the effects of the inhibitors, especially after taking the most common PARP drug called oliparib. PARP inhibitors are a form of targeted therapy–meaning the inhibitors work within a similar approach as radiation and chemotherapy– they simply damage or prevent the repair the DNA. Researchers have also found the up regulation of the unusual molecule called  2-HG(2-Hydroxyl-glutarate) within the IDH mutated enzymes. In a study with Dr. Brinda’s team at Yale, they found that 2-HG may be responsible for the defect, DNA repair inabilities, in these cells. When the production of 2-HG was blocked in these cells, the DNA repair defect was reversed and cells became unresponsive to the PARP inhibitor treatment. This finding further solidifies that PARP inhibitors may be the best new effective brain cancer treatment method. What do you think? I think this is pretty cool news!

Jto410 is the username of the radiologistwho took the picture

Low grade glioma MRI scan. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

There are also many clinical trials occurring currently to observe 2-HG as a definite IDH biomarker for cells that are sensitive to treatment with PARP inhibitors. In addition, labs are also designing a clinical trial of olaparib and temozolomide, two PARB inhibitor drugs, in patients with low-grade gliomas. The results of these trials, are for sure going to make headlines within the Biology and Medical field! Even though, there are still many questions to answers and studies to conduct regarding brain cancer and the IDH mutation, we are definitely on the right track to cure the monster a.k.a “cancer.”

New Research Shows Possible Early Diagnosis of Autism

Normally autism in children is diagnosed at around ages two or three but studies have been done to try to predict autism before behavioral symptoms occur.  University of North Carolina partnered with other universities to experiment with MRI machines to see if they could diagnose autism earlier than 24 months (2 years)

Autism is a big problem in our country and the rest of the world.  About 3 million people have autism in the United States and millions more throughout the world.  The study focused on hyper-expansion of brain surface area in children of 6-12 months of age. According to this article “Brain overgrowth was tied to the emergence of autistic social deficits in the second year.” They found that 8 out of 10 kids with a hyper-expanded brain as well as an autistic sibling would be diagnosed with autism in the future.

The fact that MRI’s can show enlarged surface area of the brain at such a young age is important in predicting whether or not a child will be later diagnosed with autism.  This is an important experiment because if doctors can predict autism before symptoms occur there may be ways for them to intervene with brain growth before a child’s brain permanently has autism and behavioral changes occur at 24 months.

 

 

8 Genes That May Be Affecting Your Sleep Patterns

Have you ever wondered why you struggle to fall asleep at night, while your sibling has no issues sleeping soundly for eight hours? What causes your sleep patterns? While your sleep may occasionally be affected by a particularly stressful event, leading to irregular sleep patterns, for

While your sleep may occasionally be affected by a particularly stressful event, leading to irregular sleep patterns, for many, it is simply caused by the way their brains and bodies work. New research has identified for the first time eight specific genes that are linked to insomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness. The data also revealed that some of the genes associated with disturbed sleep identified in this study seemed to be linked to certain metabolic and neuropsychiatric diseases too, like restless leg syndrome, schizophrenia, and obesity.

Richa Saxena, one of the co-authors and assistant professor of  anaesthesia at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard medical school, explained why this research was so important: while “it was previously known that sleep disturbances may co-occur with many diseases in humans, but it was not known that there are shared genetic components that contribute both to sleep problems and these conditions.” Furthermore, while studies have previously identified genes linked to some sleep disorders, this is the first study that has specifically linked genes to insomnia.

Link to Original Image

The study looked at the prevalence of insomnia, sleep problems and excessive daytime sleepiness in 112,586 European adults who had participated in a UK Biobank study. All participants had their genes mapped, as well as additional information like weight and diseases/chronic conditions. The results revealed fascinating linkages between certain genes. For example, the genes linked to insomnia were most strongly related to those associated with restless legs syndrome, insulin resistance, and depression, while the genes associated with excessive daytime sleepiness were also linked to obesity. Saxena remarked again that “it was not known until this study that there are shared genetic components- shared underlying biological pathways- that contribute to both sleep problems and these shared conditions.”

Of course, this study is not 100% conclusive- people who have trouble sleeping are not necessarily at higher risk for restless legs syndrome, schizophrenia, and obesity. In reality, it is likely that many different genes contribute to both sleep problems and these medical problems, Saxena said. But this new study does suggest that these problems share genes and underlying pathways.

So what does this research do for the average person? Well, not much. Right now, it’s just fascinating news that there may be a genetic reason people with these disorders are more likely to have troubled sleep. However, there is hope that in the future researchers will be able to design and test various drugs to target these genes. This would bring immense benefits to people who struggle to keep normal sleep patterns, as well as helping individuals proactively avoid diseases they may be more at risk for (for example, obesity).

 

Thylacine Brain Structure Reveals Predatory Lifestyle

The thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian Tiger, was the largest carnivorous marsupial of modern times. Native to Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea, the thylacine quickly went extinct at the start of the twentieth century, following an increase of demand for its pelts. The last known thylacine died in 1936, in Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, Tasmania, and little is known about the species’ natural behavior. New research however, gives humans a better glimpse into brains and programming behind one of Australia’s most fascinating predators.

Dr. Gregory Berns of Emory University and Dr. Ken Ashwell of the University of New South Wales scanned thylacine brains and reconstructed neural connections in an effort to better understand the specific functions of the thylacine brain and behavior. Only four surviving specimens of the brain exist, and their study gained access to two of them.

“One was provided by the Smithsonian Institution, taken from a male Tasmanian tiger after it died at the National Zoological Park in 1905. The other specimen, loaned to the researchers by the Australian Museum in Sydney, came from an animal that died during the 1930s.”, claimed researchers.

They compared the structure of Thylacine brains to those of Tasmanian devils. The researchers found that the thylacine brains had larger caudate zones than the Tasmanian devil brains. This suggests that thylacines devoted more of their brains to complex thinking, particularly action planning and decision making.

These findings match with what we know of the two animals. Tasmanian devils are known to be scavengers while thylacines were hunters. The neural rewiring done by the researchers provides anecdotal evidence that thylacines occupied a more complex predatory brain than their scavenger cousin, the Tasmanian devil.

These findings are fascinating because they give us new information regarding an animal less than 100 years extinct. It’s seems strange that we had never gathered much information about the thylacine prior to its extinction. However, the resurgence in fascination and curiosity about the animal is exciting to see. Hopefully new research and discoveries will be made in the near future, shedding more light on the thylacines life.

 

 

Image result for thylacine

Source Article: http://www.sci-news.com/biology/thylacine-brain-structure-04549.html

 

MRIs Catch Autism Prior to Symptoms

Mark Lythgoe & Chloe Hutton / Wellcome Images Image Link

Research

By using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers are now able to accurately study and predict which infants, among those with older autistic siblings, will be diagnosed by the age of 2. According to an article on Science daily, in the past couple of years, researchers have correctly predicted 80 percent of these infants who would later meet criteria for autism at 24 months of age.

A study published in Nature, shows how early brain biomarkers can be very beneficial in identifying infants at the highest risk for autism prior to any symptoms. Joseph Piven, professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, explains how typically autism cannot be detected in infants until they ages 2-4, but for infants with autistic siblings, it can be determined at an earlier age.

People diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), experience social deficits and  demonstrate very specific stereotypical behaviors. According to this study, it is estimated that one out of 68 children develop autism in the United States and that  for infants with older siblings with autism, the risk may be as high as 20 out of every 100 births. Despite these high numbers, it remains a difficult task to detect behavioral symptoms prior to 24 months of age.

Piven, along with a couple of other researchers, conducted MRI scans of infants at six, 12, and 24 months of age. They discovered that increased growth rate of surface area in the first year of life was linked to increased growth rate of overall brain volume in the second year of life. This meant that brain overgrowth was tied to the emergence of autistic social deficits in the second year. The researchers then took the information they had and used a computer program that classified babies most likely to meet criteria for autism at 24 months of age, and developed an algorithm that they applied to a separate set of study participants.

The researchers found that there were brain differences at 6 and 12 months of age in infants with older siblings with autism and infants with older ASD siblings who did not meet criteria for autism at 24 months.

Plans for the Future

This research and test would be very beneficial to a family who already has a child with autism and has a second child who may or may not be affected. The ideal goal would be to intervene and provide as much assistance to the infant and family prior to the emergence of symptoms. By intervening at early stages and when the brain is most susceptible, researchers hope to improve the outcomes of treatment.

In the nature study, Piven describes how Parkinson’s and Autism are similar in that when the person is diagnosed, they’ve already lost a substantial portion of the dopamine receptors in their brain, making treatment less effective.

One mother who has benefitted from this discovery and is extremely grateful is Rachel O’Connor. When interviewed by News12, she shared how early intervention “has brought out some language in [her] daughter,” and how her daughter “can now say what she wants and she desires. She makes better eye contact.”

 

Mouse Gut Research Could Save Your Brain

A new study in mice published by Nature Magazine suggests that a specific microbial balance results in a reduction of brain damage after a stroke. The severity of a stroke is determined by two types of intestinal cells: Regulatory T Cells and Gamma Delta T Cells. Regulatory T cells have a helpful inflammatory effect. However, Gamma Delta T Cells make a cytokine which results in harmful post-stroke inflammation.

Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center studied two different groups of mice in order to learn if gut cells could be altered in order to reduce stroke severity. One group of mice had gut bacteria that was unaffected by antibiotics, while the other group of mice’s gut bacteria was extremely vulnerable to antibiotics. The group of mice that was vulnerable to antibiotics had a higher ratio of good Regulatory T Cells to harmful Delta T Cells.

House mouse.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murinae#/media/File:House_mouse.jpg

The researchers then induced strokes in all of the mice, and the brain damage was 60% less devastating in the mice vulnerable to antibiotics than the other group. In order to ensure that the difference in stroke severity was solely as a result of the gut bacteria, the researchers took the feces of the mice with reduced stroke severity, and transplanted it into new mice. Those new mice also exhibited a resistance to brain damage, confirming the belief that the gut bacteria was responsible for the change.

These new findings in the research of mice may be able to benefit humans in the future. Antibiotics or a specific diet may be able to reduce the effect of stroke on the brain. However, the gut microbiome of a mouse is vastly different than the gut microbiome of a human, so it may be a while before new treatments are discovered.

When in doubt go with your gut!

The human gut has trillions of bacteria that help to regulate digestion and break down food.  An extremely important function they have is to keep out bad bacteria and potential harmful microbes.  The gut is a very important part of the body, because it affects not only your digestion and metabolism, but your brain too!

Often called your “second brain,” the human gut plays a big role in a human’s life.  The gut produces about 95% of serotonin, which is the drug that affects emotion.  An experiment with mice was done to see the effect that their gut had on their brain activity.

Each mouse received antibiotics, consisting of neurochemicals that enhanced mood, and were observed after this change occurred in their gut.  The mice became more energetic.  The article mentioned that even changing an animal’s gut by one bacteria can change their mood.  In this case altering one bacteria was tested which caused the mice to be more cautious than normal.

This article went in depth on how the bacteria in your gut can cause anxiety. “Bacteria communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve: When the vagus nerve is severed, effects of gut bacteria on brain biochemistry, stress response and behavior evaporate.”  They then went on to discuss how someone’s brain can affect the human gut, which was extremely fascinating.

Golden Snub-nosed Monkeys, Qinling Mountains - China

They first did tests with monkey’s and found that mothers who were exposed to loud noises during pregnancy caused their offspring to have less beneficial bacteria.  Another experiment was done with students in which they gave stool samples during exam week.  The results showed that their was less good bacteria in their gut, called lactobacilli.

In general the human gut plays a huge role on the brain and vice versa.  Stay healthy, don’t stress too much over school because you never know what anxiety could be doing to the good bacteria in your gut!

I chose this article because I have stomach issues and had to go gluten free.  I didn’t realize what goes into your gut had such a large effect on the brain!

 

Gut Microbes and the Brain

Neuroscientists are studying the idea that intestinal microbiota might influence brain development and behavior.

Neuroscientist Knickmeyer is looking to study 30 newborns and how they have grown into inquisitive, curious one-year olds through a series of behavioral and temperament tests. She is eager to see their faecal microbiota, bacteria, viruses and other microbes that live in their guts.

Studies of animals raised in sterile, germ-free conditions showed that these microbes in the gut influence behavior and can alter brain neurochemistry and physiology. Some research has drawn links with gut bacteria and their interactions with the brain.

Escherichia coli, a species of bacteria present in the human gut https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gut_flora#/media/File:EscherichiaColi_NIAID.jpg

Gut Reactions

Prior to recent research, microbes and the brain have rarely been known to interact, with the exception of when pathogens penetrate the blood brain barrier. When they do, there can be intense effects. For example, the virus causing rabies elicits aggression, agitation and a fear of water. The idea that gut microbes could influence neurobiology was not ever thought of, but this is changing.

One research study showed that IBS lead to issues such as depression and anxiety. This lead scientists to wonder if psychiatric symptoms are driven by inflammation or a whacky microbiome caused by infection.

One 2011 study showed that germ-free mice were less-anxious than mice with indigenous microbes. These studies also showed that many of these behaviors are formed during a critical period during which microbes have their strongest effects. Another problem is that “germ-free” is an unnatural situation. However, it allows for researchers to learn which microbial functions are important for development of organs or cell types.

Chemical Exploration

Recent studies have found that gut microbes directly alter neurotransmitter levels, enabling their communication with neurons.

Scientists are also studying whether or not altered serotonin levels in the gut trigger a cascade of molecular events, therefore affecting brain activity.

In 2015 research showed that myelination can also be influenced by gut microbes, at least in a specific part of the brain. Germ-free mice are protected from some conditions, for example multiple sclerosis, because it is characterized by demyelination of nerve fibers. These scientists wish to use these studies to help humans who suffer from MS.

A Move to Therapy

Tracy Bale, a neuroscientist, sought to study how microbes of pregnant mothers affect their offspring. Maria Dominguez-Bello, microbiologist, wants to see if babies born through Caesarean sections end up with microbiota similar to babies born vaginally if they are swabbed on the mouth and skin with gauze taken from their mothers’ vaginas.

For Knickmeyer, the amygdala and prefrontal cortex are the brain areas that interest her the most in her studies with the newborn infants. This is because both of these areas have been affected by microbiota manipulations in rodent models. Something she is worried might affect the study is the confounding factors such as diet, home lives and environmental exposure.

Source: http://www.nature.com/news/the-tantalizing-links-between-gut-microbes-and-the-brain-1.18557

For more information:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4228144/

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/microbes-can-play-games-mind

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/healthline-/gut-bacteria-and-the-brai_b_11898980.html

Tickle, Tickle!

You might be wondering, why am I ticklish? Or, why do I laugh if somebody else tickles me, but not when I try to tickle myself? The mystery of ticklishness has been sought after for decades, including by Darwin and Aristotle.

A recent study tested ticklishness on rats, and the results were astonishing! The rats reacted to human tickles with ultrasonic “laughter cells” and emitted various calls. While many humans are most ticklish on their armpits and stomachs, rats were found to be most ticklish on their bellies and underneath their feet. They performed “joy jumps” after being tickled, which is a behavior associated with joyful subjects in various mammals.

 

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Researchers continued searching for answers, and sought to discover how being ticklish relates to the brain and whether or not it is a trick of the brain that rewards interacting.

When researchers Shimpei Ishiyama and Michael Brecht investigated the response of the rat’s brain to tickling, they observed nerve cells that responded strongly to tickling and they found very similar responses during play behaviors as during tickling- even without the scientist touching the rat. These nerve cells also worked in reverse. For example, if the rats were made anxious, they were less ticklish and the activity in these cells were reduced. It was discovered that activity in the trunk somatosensory cortex is what led to ticklishness.

The discovery of the connection between brain responses to tickling and play was incredible.

 

Other Articles About This Topic:

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/11/10/501447965/brain-scientists-trace-rat-ticklishness-to-play-behavior

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2016/11/11/watch-rats-giggle-and-jump-for-joy-at-being-tickled/

Number of strokes increased in children!

Sean Maloney stroke brainscan

Intel Free Press Image Link

Statistics 

According to new studies, strokes have been affecting younger generations more than ever. The average age for people having a first stroke has dropped from  71.1 in 2000 to 69.3 in 2012.What’s interesting is that in general, the number of strokes in the U.S. has actually gone down over the last few decades, according to Chengwei Li, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. However, Li’s study, shows that the rate of strokes in people under the age of 65 have not gone down, and that the rate of strokes in people under the age of 55 has actually increased.

Treatment

According to a study on WebMD, it is in some ways easier to treat the younger patients affected. People who get to the hospital within 4 and a half hours of their episode, or attack, can receive a drug that breaks up the clot in the brain and restores the blood flow. However, studies have shown that this treatment is more likely to benefit younger patients opposed to elder patients. Although this may be the case, young adults and females in particular, are often not eligible for the treatment because they ignore early symptoms or wait until the symptoms get severe, before they seek help.

As stated in an article from Live Science  and a journal from NCBI, the increase in stroke incidents at younger ages has great significance because strokes in younger patients carry out for a greater lifetime burden of disability.

While the total number of strokes in the U.S. has decreased, the number and severity of strokes in younger generations has increased. As a result, researchers, doctors, and medical staff continue to work together in order to seek ways to treat the newer generation of stroke patients.

Obesity Related to the Brain

Lauri Nummenmaa has done research the connects obesity to the brain.  This research shows that people struggling with obesity have a lower amount of μ-opioid receptors available for binding in the brain.  (To learn more about μ-opioid receptors click here.)  Due to evolution, our brains are still “wired” to search for food and nutrients.  Since eating gives off a sensation in the brain, related to the opioid receptors, people with fewer receptors that are able to bind will therefore eat more to make up for the loss in sensation.  This reaction is the same as a reaction to an addiction would be, causing more neurotransmitters to be secreted.  The next step that scientists are taking is to discover whether being obese causes a lack in opioid receptors, or if a lack in opioid receptors, caused by another source, is what causes obesity.  One test that scientists did was testing μ-opioid receptors in people that had bariatric surgery.  Bariatric surgery causes more receptors to work again, shown by the fact that scientists could not distinguish between the μ-opioid receptors or healthy people and the μ-opioid receptors of people who had the surgery.

Some body fat, however, is helpful to the brain.  This article describes that “fat tissue in the bodies of mice releases an extracellular form of nicotinamide phosphoribosyltransferase (eNAMPT), an enzyme that travels to the hypothalamus, and gives animals energy during fasting.”  (To learn more about eNAMPT click here.)

This photo shows how a neurotransmitter is sent from neuron to neuron generally.

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(Link to Photo Page and Link to Licensing Page)

Yawning and Brain Size

macaca_fuscata_juvenile_yawning

Recently, scientists discovered a correlation between yawning and brains: the longer the average duration of a specie’s yawn, the bigger that specie’s brain size,  as measured by brain weight and total number of cortical neurons.

The study was conducted on 109 individuals from across 19 different species, including cats, humans, mice, camels, and more. The investigators found that the duration of yawns was shortest in mice, who averaged 0.8 seconds, and longest in humans, who averaged 6.5 seconds. The scientists plan on investigating whether this correlation holds true amongst individual members of a species.

The study was created in response to the ideas set forth in Gallup’s 2007 paper on the thermoregulatory theory of yawning, one of the strongest theories about why we yawn (we do not yet definitively know the biological purpose of yawning). The thermoregulatory theory indicates that yawning cools down the brain in homeotherms via three potential mechanisms. But whether or not this brain-cooling is simply a side effect or the primary function of yawning is up for debate.

Based on Gallup’s paper, the investigators of this study hypothesized that longer yawns would produce greater physiological responses, in terms of blood flow and circulation to the brain– which would be evolutionarily necessary for species with larger, more complex brains.

There are other theories about why we yawn, such as a 2014 paper stating that yawning stimulates cerebrospinal fluid circulation, which in turn increases species’ alertness. A common theory that yawning increases blood oxygen levels has largely been disproved. How would such alternate theories have different implications for the discovered correlation between yawning and brain size?

How Did Our Baby Learn That Word?!?!

Jason Sudeikis’ character is hosting a nice dinner party with his wife played by Jennifer Aniston, and all seems to be going great. Then, all of a sudden, their 12- month-old baby blurts out a curse word! “How could our baby learn such a thing?” In a flashback 8 months earlier, we see the less-experienced parenting pair blurt out some pretty R-rated things in a fit of frustration on the road with their baby in the backseat. And so the punch line sinks in.

In modern day parenting comedies, scenes like this fabricated one are a dime a dozen. But these humorous takes on life always get at least one thing right: babies are sponges. Let’s take a look at why on a cellular level.

image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AComplete_neuron_cell_diagram_en.svg

Prior to birth, most neurons migrate to the frontal lobe of the brain where, during postnatal development, they link together and forge connections, allowing a baby to learn proper responses to stimuli. The “circuits” formed by the neural connections are incredibly flexible during the early months of development (roughly the first 6 months) and can quickly be formed or severed, resulting in a remarkable neonatal human ability to rapidly pick up new knowledge about our surroundings. But how are they so malleable?!

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco may have the answer! In a study coauthored by neuropathologist Eric Huang, they found neurons forming a chain moving towards the frontal lobe from the sub ventricular zone, a layer inside the brain where nerve cells are formed, in infants up to 7 months old!

This research seems to point to the idea that these new brain cells form connections with the pre-existing neurons in the frontal lobe later in the infant’s development, resulting in more cognitive flexibility for a longer period of time.

To quote the original article by Laurel Hamers, what the new neurons are doing is analogous to “replenishing the frontal lobe’s supply of building blocks midway through construction”.

Huang’s team observed postmortem infant brain tissue under an electron microscope and discovered a group of neurons synthesizing migration proteins, but the real major discovery came with the observation of rare tissue acquired moments after death. The team injected viruses tagged with glowing proteins into the neurons (thus making the nerve cells glow) in the sample and tracked their movement. While infants up to 7 months old were observed with migrating neurons, the researchers recorded the number of migrating cells at its highest at 1.5 months old and saw it diminish thereafter. The migrating neurons usually become inhibitory interneurons which, to quote the original article, are “like stoplights for other neurons, keeping signaling in check”.

So there you have it! To make sure your baby doesn’t learn that bad word, just suck up all the migrating neurons from its brain!

All jokes aside, this research presents an amazing window into the brain development of the most intelligent species on earth! It’s fascinating how it breaks down psychological mysteries using cellular evidence. And it raises new questions about these mobile neurons: When are they created and how long does it take them to move to the frontal lobe?

How do you think this new research will influence our understanding of the creation of social biases? Do you think this will lead to breakthroughs in research on the foundation of Autism spectrum disorders?  Do you have any funny baby stories? Let me know in the comments.

Lead Leads to Neurotoxitity

Have you ever heard of using bottled water to shower? Sounds ridiculous right, but the people of Flint, Michigan need to do this to save their lives. The city of Flint switched their water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River in April 2014. The river was later discovered to be contaminated. Since the changeover, scientists have linked the high lead levels in children’s blood to the contaminated water. This is a serious problem.

Lead is a highly toxic substance that permanently affects humans’ brains by killing nerve cells. Not only does lead harm kids’ brain processes, it also may cause various future mental diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Schizophrenia. Throughout U.S. history, people have been exposed to lead poisoning through basic everyday mediums, such as paint, water (from lead-contaminated water pipes), and dust. Children who eat paint chips or lick their fingers after coming in contact with products that have a lead component are poisoning themselves. The lead enters into the bloodstream and travels throughout the body, stealthily making itself at home, poisoning the body.

So how does lead poisoning work? Basically, lead disguises itself as zinc. Zinc is needed to anchor proteins that switch genes on and off. When zinc is replaced with lead, the switches cannot function properly, eventually leading to mental diseases.

Lead Poisoning

Scientists have been researching the possibility that lead is transferable in DNA to offspring. This could be devastating to a population of a town like Flint, Michigan, where the mothers who have lead poisoning could pass this on to their babies. The worst part is that there is no cure for lead poisoning.

Because of the devastating effects of lead in bloodstream, governments have debated the topic of legalizing contaminated water as a bioweapon, using lead as the contaminant. Governments in the past have used poisoned water as an assassination method, proving the effectiveness of this strategy.

Preventing lead exposure and poisoning is critical for children’s health and for future generations.

 

Source Article

For more info on the biowarfare, click here.

Possible Connections between the Gut Microbiome and the Brain

It is not a new concept that gut bacteria affects a person’s health. But this article published in The Atlantic explains how they may even affect the human brain. Some researchers believe that the microbiome may play a role in regulating how people think and feel. Scientists have found evidence that this community of bacteria (trillions of cells that together weigh between one and three pounds) could play a crucial role in autism, anxiety, depression, and other disorders.

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 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fecal_bacteriotherapy#/media/File:E_coli_at_10000x,_original.jpg

Much of the most intriguing work has been done on autism. For years, it has been noted that about 75 percent of people with autism also have some gastrointestinal abnormality, like digestive issues or food allergies. This has prompted scientists to search for potential connections between the gut microbiome and autism; recent studies find that autistic people’s microbiome differs significantly from those of control groups. Caltech microbiologist Sarkis Mazmanian specifically focuses on a species called Bacteroides fragilis, which is seen in smaller quantities in some children with autism.  Mazmanian and several colleagues fed B. fragilis from humans to mice with symptoms similar to autism. The treatment altered the makeup of the animals’ microbiome, and more importantly, improved their behavior: They became less anxious and communicated more with other mice.

Perhaps the most well-known human study was done by Emeran Mayer, a gastroenterologist at UCLA. He recruited 25 subjects (all healthy women) for four weeks. He had 12 of them eat a cup of commercially available yogurt twice a day, while the rest didn’t. Yogurt is a probiotic, meaning it contains live bacteria. In this case it contained four species: bifidobacterium, streptococcus, lactococcus, and lactobacillus. Before and after the study, subjects were given brain scans to gauge their response to a series of images of facial expressions—happiness, sadness, anger, and so on.

To Mayer’s surprise, the results showed significant differences between the two groups. The yogurt eaters reacted more calmly to the images than the control group. “The contrast was clear,” says Mayer. “This was not what we expected, that eating a yogurt twice a day for a few weeks would do something to your brain.” He thinks the bacteria in the yogurt changed the makeup of the subjects’ gut microbes, and that this led to the production of compounds that modified brain chemistry.

As scientists learn more about how the gut-brain microbial network operates, they think it could be manipulated to treat psychiatric disorders. And because these microbes have eons of experience modifying our brains, they are likely to be more precise and subtle than current pharmacological approaches, which could mean fewer side effects. “I think these microbes will have a real effect on how we treat these disorders,” neuroscientist John Cryan says. “This is a whole new way to modulate brain function.”

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