Neuroscience

The hormone oxytocin, which has been associated with interpersonal bonding, may enhance the pleasure of social interactions by stimulating production of marijuana-like neurotransmitters in the brain, according to a new study.

The research is the first to link oxytocin - dubbed the "love hormone" by psychologists - and anandamide, which has similarly been called the "bliss molecule" for its role in activating cannabinoid receptors in brain cells, to heighten motivation and happiness. 

Our ability to learn, move, and sense our world comes from the neurons in our brain. The information moves through our brain between neurons that are linked together by tens of trillions of tiny structures called synapses.

Although tiny, synapses are not simple and must be precisely organized to function properly. Indeed, diseases like autism and Alzheimer's are increasingly linked to defects in the organization and number of these tiny structures. Now researchers at Thomas Jefferson University have found a new way in which synapses organization is controlled, which could eventually lead to better treatments for neurological diseases.

Researchers say they have added to evidence that a shell-shaped region in the center of the mammalian brain, known as the thalamic reticular nucleus or TRN, is likely responsible for the ability to routinely and seamlessly multitask. 

The process, they suggest, is done by individual TRN neurons that act like a "switchboard," continuously filtering sensory information and shifting more or less attention onto one sense -- like sight -- while relatively blocking out distracting information from other senses, including sound.

At the flip of a switch, neuroscientists can send a sleeping mouse into dreamland.

The researchers did it by inserting an optogenetic switch into a group of nerve cells located in the ancient part of the brain called the medulla, allowing them to activate or inactivate the neurons with laser light. 

When the neurons were activated, sleeping mice entered REM sleep within seconds. REM sleep, characterized by rapid eye movements, is the dream state in mammals accompanied by activation of the cortex and total paralysis of the skeletal muscles, presumably so that we don't act out the dreams flashing through our mind.

A new study of newborns treated with hypothermia for hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) - a condition that occurs when the brain is deprived of an adequate oxygen supply - confirms its neuroprotective effects on the brain.

Therapeutic hypothermia or targeted cooling of the brain is the first therapy for neuroprotection in neonates with HIE. Without treatment, these babies often develop cerebral palsy or other severe complications. World-wide, nearly one million babies will die and another million will be left with disabilities.

Antipsychotic drugs are initiated in patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) more frequently than in the general population - already 2-3 years before the Alzheimer's diagnosis, according to a new study from the University of Eastern Finland. Most commonly, antipsychotics were initiated during the six months following the Alzheimer's diagnosis; however, the incidence of new antipsychotic users was high also later on. 

Washington, DC--When a pregnant woman has gestational diabetes, her unborn child tends to react more slowly to sounds after the mother consumes sugary foods or drinks compared to the offspring of a woman who does not have the condition, according to a new study published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology&Metabolism.

A pair of neurons that cause males to remember and seek sex even at the expense of food. These neurons, which are male-specific, are required for sex-based differences in learning, suggesting that sex differences in cognitive abilities can be genetically hardwired. 

The study by UCL (UK) and Albert Einstein College of Medicine (USA), published today in Nature and funded by the Wellcome Trust, NIH, Marie Curie, and the G. Harold&Leila Y. Mathers Charitable Foundation, shows a direct link between contrasting behavior of male and female worms and differences in brain development and structure in areas involved in higher order processing.  

The cognitive skills used to learn how to ride a bike may be the key to a more accurate understanding of developmental dyslexia. And, they may lead to improved interventions.

Carnegie Mellon University scientists investigated how procedural learning - how we acquire skills and habits such as riding a bike - impacts how individuals with dyslexia learn speech sound categories. Published in Cortex, Lori Holt and Yafit Gabay found for the first time that learning complex auditory categories through procedural learning is impaired in dyslexia. This means that difficulty processing speech may be an effect of dyslexia, not its cause.

How did the world sound to our ancient human relatives two million years ago?

While we obviously don’t have any sound recordings or written records from anywhere near that long ago, we do have one clue: the fossilized bones from inside their ears. The internal anatomy of the ear influences its hearing abilities.