Last Updated: 3/21/2013 13:09 PST As many people hit middle age, they often start to notice that their memory and mental clarity are not what they used to be. We suddenly can't remember where we put the keys just a moment ago, or an old acquaintance's name, or the name of an old band we used to love.
March 29, 2010 People who scored high on a test that measures impulsive and antisocial traits had exaggerated brain responses to certain “rewards,” like winning money or taking stimulant drugs. The new study provides evidence that a dysfunctional brain reward system may underlie vulnerability to a personality disorder known as psychopathy. Impulsive and antisocial personality traits correlate with amphetamine-induced dopamine release (red and yellow) in the brain.
Apr 19, Medicine & Health/Neuroscience Researchers at Brown University have found that specific genetic variations can predict how persistently people will believe advice they are given, even when it is contradicted by experience. The story they tell in a paper in the April 20 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience is one of the byplay between two brain regions that have different takes on how incoming information should influence thinking. The prefrontal cortex (PFC), the executive area of the brain, considers and stores incoming instructions such as the advice of other people (e.g., "Don't sell those stocks.") The striatum, buried deeper in the brain, is where people process experience to learn what to do (e.g., "Those stocks often go up after I sell them.")
May 5, 2011 — The idea of probing the body's interior with radiation stretches back to experiments with X rays in the 1800s, but more than a century later, images taken with radiological scans still are not considered reliable enough to, for example, serve as the sole indicator of the efficacy of a cancer treatment. Lisa Karam, a biochemist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and a few dozen of her colleagues across North America have set out to change that. The group of radiology specialists from a number of institutions has recently published a pair of papers that Karam describes as part of a major effort to turn medical imaging -- CT scans, PET scans, MRIs, X rays and the like -- into a quantitative research tool, one that produces reliable numbers.
Music Through the Mind Eduardo Miranda Paralysis patients could play music with their minds , using a new brain-control interface that senses brain impulses and translates them into musical notes. Users must teach themselves how to associate brain signals with specific tasks, causing neuronal activity that the brain scanners can pick up. Then they can make music. It’s a pretty unique use of brain-computer interfaces, which are already being used to do things like drive cars , control robots and play video games. The device was developed by Eduardo Miranda , a composer and computer-music specialist at the University of Plymouth, UK.
Nerve Cells (Illustrated) Benedict Campbell/Wellcome Images via Flickr It’s reminiscent of Cartman’s runaway Trapper Keeper notebook in that long-ago episode of South Park, but researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison may be scratching the surface of a new kind of brain/machine interface by creating computer chips that are wired together with living nerve cells . A team there has found that mouse nerve cells will connect with each other across a network of tiny tubes threaded through a semiconductor material. It’s not exactly clear at this point how the nerve cells are functioning, but what is clear is that the cells seem to have an affinity for the tiny tubes, and that alone has some interesting implications. To create the nerve-chip hybrid, the researchers created tubes of layered silicon and germanium that are large enough for the nerve cells’ tendrils to navigate but too small for the actual body of the cell to pass through.
Apr. 14, 2011 — Today, there is increasing exposure of individuals to a public audience. Television shows and the Internet provide platforms for this and, at times, allow observing others' flaws and norm transgressions. Regardless of whether the person observed realizes their flaw or not, observers in the audience experience vicarious embarrassment. For the first time, such vicarious embarrassment experiences as well as their neural basis have been investigated in research published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE. The research was led by Sören Krach and Frieder M.
Apr. 26, 2011 — If it was easy to learn, it will be easy to remember. Psychological scientists have maintained that nearly everyone uses this simple rule to assess their own learning. Now a study published in an upcoming issue Psychological Science , a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests otherwise: "Individuals with different theories about the nature of intelligence tend to evaluate their learning in different ways," says David B. Miele of Columbia University, who conducted the study with Bridgid Finn of Washington University in St. Louis and Daniel C.
Magnetic fields applied to the brain can be used to treat ADHD , improve memory and even control your behavior and sense of morality. But unless you’re a neuroscientist, it’s hard to see the physiology of this phenomenon, other than trying to interpret colorful brain scans. The following video accomplishes this beautifully. And not just because it cuts off a science editor’s ability to speak. Watch below as New Scientist editor Roger Highfield’s recitation of "Humpty Dumpty" is interrupted by magnetic interference.
Apr. 15, 2011 — Researchers at Johns Hopkins have discovered in mice a molecular wrecking ball that powers the demolition phase of a cycle that occurs at synapses -- those specialized connections between nerve cells in the brain -- and whose activity appears critical for both limiting and enhancing learning and memory. The newly revealed protein, which the researchers named thorase after Thor, the Norse god of thunder, belongs to a large family of enzymes that energize not only neurological construction jobs but also deconstruction projects. The discovery is described in the April 15 issue of Cell . "Thorase is vital for keeping in balance the molecular construction-deconstruction cycle we believe is required for memory formation," explains Valina Dawson, professor of neurology and neuroscience in the Johns Hopkins Institute of Cell Engineering.
Apr. 17, 2011 — By asking a group of older adults to analyze videos of other people conversing -- some talking truthfully, some insincerely -- a group of scientists at the University of California, San Francisco has determined which areas of the brain govern a person's ability to detect sarcasm and lies. Some of the adults in the group were healthy, but many of the test subjects had neurodegenerative diseases that cause certain parts of the brain to deteriorate. The UCSF team mapped their brains using magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, which showed associations between the deteriorations of particular parts of the brain and the inability to detect insincere speech. "These patients cannot detect lies," said UCSF neuropsychologist Katherine Rankin, PhD, a member of the UCSF Memory and Aging Center and the senior author of the study. "This fact can help them be diagnosed earlier."
Apr. 15, 2011 — The circadian system that controls normal sleep patterns is regulated by a group of glial brain cells called astrocytes, according to a study published online on April 14th in Current Biology , a Cell Press publication. Neuroscientists from Tufts University School of Medicine found that disruption of astrocyte function in fruit flies (Drosophila) led to altered daily rhythms, an indication that these star-shaped glial cells contribute to the control of circadian behavior. These results provide, for the first time, a tractable genetic model to study the role of astrocytes in circadian rhythms and sleep disorders. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, more than 40 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders.
The Brain Atlas Allen Institute for Brain Science The Allen Institute for Brain Science has completed what it is calling the first comprehensive gene map of the human brain as part of its development of the Allen Human Brain Atlas, a public resource that it hopes will accelerate clinical understandings of how the human brain works. The genetic mapping of two human brains showed a striking 94 percent similarity between the two, which could help researchers establish patterns and otherwise figure out in which parts of our brains to look for different expressions of genetic differences. The idea behind the brain atlas is to develop a tool that researchers can access to determine how the genome is expressed in the brain, a process which is--needless to say--complex. Over four years, the ABI crunched more than 100 million data points to pinpoint 1,000 different anatomical sites in the brain that exhibit particular gene expression.
(But don't try this at home) 9-Volt Battery Wikimedia Commons We’ve already seen how magnets hovering close to a person’s head can affect speech , behavior and learning patterns. Now it appears zapping your brain with a 9-volt battery will make you better at video games , at least according to one researcher. Don’t try this yourself, though.
Never mind mastering a second language or a subject syllabus, most us have enough difficulty remembering the orders for a round of drinks at the pub. That's because the average short-term, working memory can only hold five to seven pieces of information at any one time. This limit constrains pretty much everything you want to do with your brain, so wouldn't it be great if you could overcome it? Unfortunately, past attempts by cognitive scientists to increase people's working memories have largely failed. Although subjects trained in specific strategies, such as rehearsing long strings of numbers, often improved their performance on the particular task at hand, they were no better at other problems.