Neuroscience

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended that screening for autism be incorporated into routine
physician check-ups, even if no concern has been raised by the parents.

Such routine screening of all children for autism gets a thumbs down from researchers at McMaster University in a Pediatrics study.  The researchers say there is "not enough sound evidence to support the implementation of a routine population-based screening program for autism."


It is generally accepted that pathological violence is a combination of factors, both biological and psychological, but brain studies of violent criminals haven't revealed much.

However, a new brain imaging study suggests that men with a history of violent behavior may have greater gray matter volume in certain brain areas, whereas men with a history of substance use disorders may have reduced gray matter volume in other brain areas.

On June 6th 2005, EPFL (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland) and IBM launched the Blue Brain Project, an ambitious attempt at simulating a mammalian brain down to a molecular level. Headed by professor Henry Markram, the Blue Brain Project, along with a dozen international partners, has recently proposed the Human Brain Project, with as ultimate goal the simulation of a human brain. Recently, the group has been awarded a grant of roughly 1.4 Euros by the European Commission to formulate a detailed research proposal. If the decision of the European Commission (expected in 2012) is favorable, up to 1 billion pounds could be awarded to the project…

The astrocyte, most common cell in the human nervous system, is finally getting some respect; researchers have used embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells to cultivate the star-shaped astrocyte.

Not just putty in the brain and spinal cord

The ability to make large, uniform batches of astrocytes, explains stem cell researcher Su-Chun Zhang, opens a new avenue to more fully understanding the functional roles of the brain's most commonplace cell, as well as its involvement in a host of central nervous system disorders ranging from headaches to dementia. What's more, the ability to culture the cells gives researchers a powerful tool to devise new therapies and drugs for neurological disorders.
Fifty years ago, the philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky speculated that humans are able to learn language easily as children because knowledge of grammar is 'hardwired' into human brains. In other words, we know some of the fundamental things about human language at birth, without ever being taught.

Controversial?  Yes, but a group of cognitive scientists now say he may have been onto something.   They contend we are born with knowledge of certain syntactical rules that make learning human languages easier.
Scientists have identified a biochemical abnormality behind the potentially fatal neurodegenerative Machado-Joseph disease (MJD) and, using several models of the disease, were able to reverse the problem in what may be a crucial step towards a cure for humans.  Currently, the disease is incurable and the patients’ increasing neurodegeneration cannot be stopped. 
A new study of electroencephalography (EEG) readings published in the Journal of Neuroscience says that despite the major neural overhaul underway during adolescence, most teens maintained a unique and consistent pattern of underlying brain oscillations.  They say this lends a new level of support to the idea that people produce a kind of brainwave "fingerprint."

They recruited 19 volunteers who were 9 or 10 years old and 26 who were 15 or 16 years old to sleep for two consecutive nights in the lab while EEG electrodes recorded oscillations in their brains during both REM and non-REM sleep. For each child she repeated the measurements about two years later.
There's a news story replicating on the web right now about a "Functioning Synapse Created Using Carbon Nanotubes," for instance here and here.  However, it's not quite as good as it sounds (yet) because it's just a SPICE (simulation) circuit.

Both of those example news stories include this partially relevant image with the caption "This image shows nanotubes used in synthetic synapse and apparatus used to create them."
A group of patients withneurodegenerative diseases have helped researchers discover a neurological basis of embarrassment.    The thumb-sized bit of tissue in the right hemisphere of the front part of the brain is called the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex and they found the link using...karaoke.

They recorded people belting out "My Girl" – the 1964 hit by The Temptations - and then asked them to listen to their own singing without the accompanying music.   The degree to which the singers were embarrassed in hearing themselves sing depended on the integrity of the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex region.
Recent research indicates that bilingual speakers can outperform monolinguals in certain mental abilities, such as editing out irrelevant information and focusing on important information, said Judith Kroll, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Penn State. These skills make bilinguals better at prioritizing tasks and working on multiple projects at one time.  Kroll said that these findings counter previous conclusions that bilingualism hindered cognitive development.