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By: Joel N. Shurkin, Inside Science

(Inside Science) -- Researchers in Pittsburgh, using a brain-computer interface, have shown why learning something similar to what you already know--a repertoire of previous knowledge--makes learning new things easier. Learning unfamiliar ideas or behavior is more difficult.

While that sounds self-evident, the researchers have actually watched it happen in animal brains to learn how it works.

Researchers at Harvard School of Medicine and the University at Buffalo have discovered a sleep-promoting circuit located deep in the primitive brainstem, only the second "sleep node" identified in the mammalian brain whose activity appears to be both necessary and sufficient to produce deep sleep. 

Writing in Nature Neuroscience, the study demonstrates that fully half of all of the brain's sleep-promoting activity originates from the parafacial zone (PZ) in the brainstem. The brainstem is a primordial part of the brain that regulates basic functions necessary for survival, such as breathing, blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature.

Don't bank on it. Credit: Sabinurce

By Kristine Alexander, University of Vermont

Most adults need seven to nine hours sleep to function at their best. Credit: Jiuck/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

By Gemma Paech, University of South Australia

Cigarette smoking is considered a leading cause of preventable death worldwide and implicated in as many as 440,000 deaths in the United States each year by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the United States, about 20 percent of people still smoke cigarettes and half claim they try to quit each year, though only 10 percent do so and most change their minds within 48 hours. Learning about withdrawal and difficulty of quitting can lead to more effective treatments to help smokers quit and so a new study on nicotine addiction measured a behavior that can be similarly quantified across species like humans and rats; the responses to rewards during nicotine withdrawal. 

Thiamine - vitamin B1 - can potentially cause a fatal brain disorder called Wernicke encephalopathy.

Wernicke encephalopathy typically occurs in people who have disorders such as alcoholism and anorexia that lead to malnourishment and is an example of the wide range of brain diseases called encephalopathies that are caused by metabolic disorders and toxic substances

Symptoms can include confusion, hallucinations, coma, loss of muscle coordination and vision problems such as double vision and involuntary eye movements. Untreated, the condition can lead to irreversible brain damage and death.

Acute encephalopathy has a rapid onset of between hours and days. It is commonly due to toxic and metabolic factors.

Some people avoid risk while others will roll the dice with wealth, health, and safety. Is it just personality? Media influence?

Researchers led by Ifat Levy, assistant professor in comparative medicine and neurobiology at Yale School of Medicine believe that the volume of the parietal cortex in the brain can predict where people fall on the risk-taking spectrum. 

People with blood type AB may be more likely to develop memory loss in later years than people with other blood types, according to a paper in Neurology, but what does that really mean?

AB is the least common blood type, found in about 4 percent of the U.S. population. The study found that people with AB blood were 82 percent more likely to develop the thinking and memory problems that can lead to dementia than people with other blood types.

Previous studies have shown that people with type O blood have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, factors that can increase the risk of memory loss and dementia but those are based on epidemiological fishing expeditions.  Is there really a link?

Males get more diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorders than females and it may be related to changes in the brain's estrogen signaling, writes a paper in Molecular Autism.

 Autism Spectrum Disorders are a broad category of diagnoses that include brain development and assessments of impaired social interaction, along verbal and non-verbal communication and restricted and repetitive behavior. The disorders may have a genetic basis and are around four times more common in men than in women. They have been associated with higher levels of the sex hormone testosterone, but whether there is a relationship between the disorders and estrogen signaling was not known. 

Coral trout are fast when chasing prey above the reefs of their habitat, but can't pursue their quarry if it buries itself into a hard-to-reach reef crevice - so they instead team up with a snake-like moray eel to flush out the unfortunate fish, which is a remarkable piece of interspecies collaboration: either the eel takes the prey in the reef, or scares it back into the open so the trout can pounce.