Neuroscience

The notion of a dementia epidemic has been a big concern in ageing societies across the globe for some time. With the extension of life expectancy it seems to be an inevitable disaster – one of the “greatest enemies of humanity”, according to UK prime minister David Cameron.

Male and female brains operate differently at a molecular level, according to a new study of a brain region involved in learning and memory and responses to stress and epilepsy.

Many brain disorders vary between the sexes, but how biology and culture contribute to these differences has been unclear. The neuroscientists found an intrinsic biological difference between males and females in the molecular regulation of synapses in the hippocampus. This provides a scientific reason to believe that female and male brains may respond differently to drugs targeting certain synaptic pathways.

The brains of people with epilepsy appear to react to music differently from the brains of those who do not have the disorder, a finding that could lead to new therapies to prevent seizures, according to research presented at the American Psychological Association's 123rd Annual Convention.

"We believe that music could potentially be used as an intervention to help people with epilepsy," said Christine Charyton, PhD, adjunct assistant professor and visiting assistant professor of neurology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, who presented the research.

Understanding how and why we evolved such large brains is one of the most puzzling issues in the study of human evolution. It is widely accepted that brain size increase is partly linked to changes in diet over the last 3 million years, and increases in meat consumption and the development of cooking have received particular attention from the scientific community.

In a new study, Dr. Karen Hardy and her team bring together archaeological, anthropological, genetic, physiological and anatomical data to argue that carbohydrate consumption, particularly in the form of starch, was critical for the accelerated expansion of the human brain over the last million years, and co-evolved both with copy number variation of the salivary amylase genes and controlled fire use for cooking.

New research suggests concussion may not significantly impair symptoms or cognitive skills for one gender over another, however, women may still experience greater symptoms and poorer cognitive performance at preseason testing. The study released today will be presented at the Sports Concussion Conference in Denver, July 24 to 26, hosted by the American Academy of Neurology, the world's leading authority on diagnosing and managing sports concussion. The conference will feature the latest scientific advances in diagnosing and treating sports concussion from leading experts in the field.

My attention was recently drawn to a link to the Science Codex, which begins:

With the results of a new study, neuroscientists have a firmer grasp on the way the brain formulates commands for the hand to grip an object. The advance could lead to improvements in future brain-computer interfaces that provide people with severe paralysis a means to control robotic arms and hands using their thoughts.

The key finding of a research team based at Brown University is that neurons in the area of the brain responsible for planning grasping motions retain information about the object to be gripped as they make their movement plan. The collective neural activity therefore looks different when executing the same grip on one object versus another. This may help the brain design unique patterns when similar actions are performed in different environments.

Sleeping not only protects memories from being forgotten, it also makes them easier to access, according to new research which suggest that after sleep we are more likely to recall facts which we could not remember while still awake.

In two situations where subjects forgot information over the course of 12 hours of wakefulness, a night's sleep was shown to promote access to memory traces that had initially been too weak to be retrieved.

The research tracked memories for novel, made-up words learned either prior to a night's sleep, or an equivalent period of wakefulness. Subjects were asked to recall words immediately after exposure, and then again after the period of sleep or wakefulness. 

Could it be that genetic differences can affect how well children perform in exams? Our research suggests that this may well be the case and that individual differences between children are, to a large extent, due to the inherited genetic differences between them that predisposes them to do well academically, whatever the subject.

We also found that there is shared genetic influence across a range of subjects, even after controlling the exam results for general intelligence.

Challenging the idea that addiction is hardwired in the brain, a new study suggests that even a short time spent in a stimulating learning environment can rewire the brain’s reward system and buffer it against drug dependence.

Scientists tracked cocaine cravings in more than 70 adult male mice and found that those rodents whose daily drill included exploration, learning and finding hidden tasty morsels were less likely than their enrichment-deprived counterparts to seek solace in a chamber where they had been given cocaine.