Chapter 2. Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals

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By Elissa Welle A new study suggests that the brain clears less waste during sleep and under anesthesia than while in other states—directly contradicting prior results that suggest sleep initiates that process. The findings are stirring fresh debate on social media and elsewhere over the glymphatic system hypothesis, which contends that convective flow of cerebrospinal fluid clears the sleeping brain of toxins. The new work, published 13 May in Nature Neuroscience, proposes that fluid diffusion is responsible for moving waste throughout the brain. It uses a different method than the earlier studies—injecting tracers into mouse brain tissue instead of cerebrospinal fluid—which is likely a more reliable way to understand how the fluid moves through densely packed neurons, says Jason Rihel, professor of behavioral genetics at University College London, who was not involved in any of the studies on brain clearance. The findings have prompted some sleep researchers, including Rihel, to question the existence of a glymphatic system and whether brain clearance is tied to sleep-wake states, he says. But leading proponents of the sleep-induced clearance theory are pushing back against the study’s techniques. The new study is “misleading” and “extremely poorly done,” says Maiken Nedergaard, professor of neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, whose 2013 study on brain clearance led to the hypothesis of a glymphatic system. She says she plans to challenge the work in a proposed Matters Arising commentary for Nature Neuroscience. Inserting needles into the brain damages the tissue, and injecting fluid, as the team behind the new work did, increases intracranial pressure, says Jonathan Kipnis, professor of pathology and immunology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Kipnis and his colleagues published a study in February in support of the glymphatic system hypothesis that suggests neural activity facilitates brain clearance. “You disturb the system when you inject into the brain,” Kipnis says, “and that’s why we were always injecting in the CSF.” © 2024 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Sleep
Link ID: 29327 - Posted: 05.25.2024

By Laura Sanders It’s a bit like seeing a world in a grain of sand. Except the view, in this case, is the exquisite detail inside a bit of human brain about half the size of a grain of rice. Held in that minuscule object is a complex collective of cells, blood vessels, intricate patterns and biological puzzles. Scientists had hints of these mysteries in earlier peeks at this bit of brain (SN: 6/29/21). But now, those details have been brought into new focus by mapping the full landscape of some 57,000 cells, 150 million synapses and their accompanying 23 centimeters of blood vessels, researchers report in the May 10 Science. The full results, the scientists hope, may lead to greater insights into how the human brain works. “We’re going in and looking at every individual connection attached to every cell — a very high level of detail,” says Viren Jain, a computational neuroscientist at Google Research in Mountain View, Calif. The big-picture goal of brain mapping efforts, he says, is “to understand how human brains work and what goes wrong in various kinds of brain diseases.” The newly mapped brain sample was removed during a woman’s surgery for epilepsy, so that doctors could reach a deeper part of the brain. The bit, donated with the woman’s consent, was from the temporal lobe of the cortex, the outer part of the brain involved in complex mental feats like thinking, remembering and perceiving. This digital drawing of a person's head shows the brain inside. An arrow points to the bottom left side of the brain. After being fixed in a preservative, the brain bit was sliced into almost impossibly thin wisps, and then each slice was imaged with a high-powered microscope. Once these views were collected, researchers used computers to digitally reconstruct the three-dimensional objects embedded in the piece of brain. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2024

Keyword: Brain imaging; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 29324 - Posted: 05.25.2024

By Amanda Heidt For the first time, a brain implant has helped a bilingual person who is unable to articulate words to communicate in both of his languages. An artificial-intelligence (AI) system coupled to the brain implant decodes, in real time, what the individual is trying to say in either Spanish or English. The findings1, published on 20 May in Nature Biomedical Engineering, provide insights into how our brains process language, and could one day lead to long-lasting devices capable of restoring multilingual speech to people who can’t communicate verbally. “This new study is an important contribution for the emerging field of speech-restoration neuroprostheses,” says Sergey Stavisky, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Davis, who was not involved in the study. Even though the study included only one participant and more work remains to be done, “there’s every reason to think that this strategy will work with higher accuracy in the future when combined with other recent advances”, Stavisky says. The person at the heart of the study, who goes by the nickname Pancho, had a stroke at age 20 that paralysed much of his body. As a result, he can moan and grunt but cannot speak clearly. In his thirties, Pancho partnered with Edward Chang, a neurosurgeon at the University of California, San Francisco, to investigate the stroke’s lasting effects on his brain. In a groundbreaking study published in 20212, Chang’s team surgically implanted electrodes on Pancho’s cortex to record neural activity, which was translated into words on a screen. Pancho’s first sentence — ‘My family is outside’ — was interpreted in English. But Pancho is a native Spanish speaker who learnt English only after his stroke. It’s Spanish that still evokes in him feelings of familiarity and belonging. “What languages someone speaks are actually very linked to their identity,” Chang says. “And so our long-term goal has never been just about replacing words, but about restoring connection for people.” © 2024 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Language; Robotics
Link ID: 29321 - Posted: 05.23.2024

By Carissa Wong Researchers have mapped a tiny piece of the human brain in astonishing detail. The resulting cell atlas, which was described today in Science1 and is available online, reveals new patterns of connections between brain cells called neurons, as well as cells that wrap around themselves to form knots, and pairs of neurons that are almost mirror images of each other. The 3D map covers a volume of about one cubic millimetre, one-millionth of a whole brain, and contains roughly 57,000 cells and 150 million synapses — the connections between neurons. It incorporates a colossal 1.4 petabytes of data. “It’s a little bit humbling,” says Viren Jain, a neuroscientist at Google in Mountain View, California, and a co-author of the paper. “How are we ever going to really come to terms with all this complexity?” The brain fragment was taken from a 45-year-old woman when she underwent surgery to treat her epilepsy. It came from the cortex, a part of the brain involved in learning, problem-solving and processing sensory signals. The sample was immersed in preservatives and stained with heavy metals to make the cells easier to see. Neuroscientist Jeff Lichtman at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and his colleagues then cut the sample into around 5,000 slices — each just 34 nanometres thick — that could be imaged using electron microscopes. Jain’s team then built artificial-intelligence models that were able to stitch the microscope images together to reconstruct the whole sample in 3D. “I remember this moment, going into the map and looking at one individual synapse from this woman’s brain, and then zooming out into these other millions of pixels,” says Jain. “It felt sort of spiritual.” When examining the model in detail, the researchers discovered unconventional neurons, including some that made up to 50 connections with each other. “In general, you would find a couple of connections at most between two neurons,” says Jain. Elsewhere, the model showed neurons with tendrils that formed knots around themselves. “Nobody had seen anything like this before,” Jain adds. © 2024 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Brain imaging; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 29304 - Posted: 05.14.2024

By Miryam Naddaf Scientists have developed brain implants that can decode internal speech — identifying words that two people spoke in their minds without moving their lips or making a sound. Although the technology is at an early stage — it was shown to work with only a handful of words, and not phrases or sentences — it could have clinical applications in future. Similar brain–computer interface (BCI) devices, which translate signals in the brain into text, have reached speeds of 62–78 words per minute for some people. But these technologies were trained to interpret speech that is at least partly vocalized or mimed. The latest study — published in Nature Human Behaviour on 13 May1 — is the first to decode words spoken entirely internally, by recording signals from individual neurons in the brain in real time. “It's probably the most advanced study so far on decoding imagined speech,” says Silvia Marchesotti, a neuroengineer at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. “This technology would be particularly useful for people that have no means of movement any more,” says study co-author Sarah Wandelt, a neural engineer who was at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena at the time the research was done. “For instance, we can think about a condition like locked-in syndrome.” The researchers implanted arrays of tiny electrodes in the brains of two people with spinal-cord injuries. They placed the devices in the supramarginal gyrus (SMG), a region of the brain that had not been previously explored in speech-decoding BCIs. © 2024 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Brain imaging; Language
Link ID: 29302 - Posted: 05.14.2024

By Angie Voyles Askham The ability of amphibians to metamorphosize and, in some cases, regenerate limbs and even brain tissue raises puzzling yet fundamental questions about how a nervous system wires itself up. For example, if a frog’s legs don’t exist when its brain begins to develop—those limbs later replace its tadpole tail—how are the neural connections maintained such that, once the legs take shape, a frog can move them? “How many connections are there between the spinal cord and the brain? How do they change over metamorphosis?” asks Lora Sweeney, assistant professor at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria. To find out, Sweeney and her colleagues decided to screen a panel of adeno-associated viruses (AAVs) in two species of frog and a newt. These viruses are commonly used to genetically manipulate brain cells in rodents and monkeys, but they have not been proven useful in amphibian experiments. With the right techniques, most common AAVs can deliver genes to amphibian cells through a process called transduction, according to Sweeney’s unpublished results, though the most effective viruses vary by species. These amphibian-friendly AAVs can be used to trace neuronal connections and track groups of neurons born at the same time, the new work shows. And a subset of these same AAVs can also transduce cells in axolotls, newts’ fuzzy-gilled Mexican cousins, according to another preprint from an independent team. Both preprints were posted on bioRxiv in February. “It’s a big game-changer,” says Helen Willsey, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in either study but works with amphibian models. “It opens up a lot of doors for new experiments.” Other researchers had previously tried to get AAVs to transduce cells in frogs and fish, with little success. © 2024 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Brain imaging; Evolution
Link ID: 29267 - Posted: 04.24.2024

By McKenzie Prillaman It was hailed as a potentially transformative technique for measuring brain activity in animals: direct imaging of neuronal activity (DIANA), held the promise of mapping neuronal activity so fast that neurons could be tracked as they fired. But nearly two years on from the 2022 Science paper1, no one outside the original research group and their collaborators have been able to reproduce the results. Now, two teams have published a record of their replication attempts — and failures. The studies, published on 27 March in Science Advances2,3, suggest that the original results were due to experimental error or data cherry-picking, not neuronal activity after all. But the lead researcher behind the original technique stands by the results. “I’m also very curious as to why other groups fail in reproducing DIANA,” says Jang-Yeon Park, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) physicist at Sungkyunkwan University in Suwon, South Korea. Science said in an e-mail to Nature that, although it’s important to report the negative results, the Science Advances studies “do not allow a definitive conclusion” to be drawn about the original work, “because there were methodological differences between the papers”. In conventional functional MRI (fMRI), researchers monitor changes in blood flow to different brain regions to estimate activity. But this response lags by at least one second behind the activity of neurons, which send messages in milliseconds. Park and his co-authors said that DIANA could measure neuronal activity directly, which is an “extraordinary claim”, says Ben Inglis, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley. © 2024 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 29253 - Posted: 04.11.2024

By Claudia López Lloreda As animals carry out complex behaviors, multiple brain areas turn on and talk to one another. But neuroscientists have had limited means to measure that neuronal dialogue. Electrical recordings, for example, are typically constrained to one brain area at a time, or require that mice have their head fixed in a specific position. A new technology overcomes those restrictions. The device, called E-Scope, reported in a peer-reviewed preprint in eLife, effectively measures the activity of neurons in two different areas at the same time, even as rodents move freely. The headset captures images of calcium currents, made using a microscope, and recordings of neurons’ electrical activity through electrodes to show how the cerebellum communicates with other brain regions during social interaction in mice. “Everything [is] synchronized together that way,” says Peyman Golshani, assistant professor of neurology at the University of California, Los Angeles and a study investigator. This approach holds the potential to illuminate how coordination between brain areas in conditions marked by impaired social interaction, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism, is disrupted, Golshani says. By combining technologies, researchers who use the E-Scope “don’t need separate electrophysiology and imaging hardware,” he adds. It’s also much more comfortable for the animals, according to Golshani. A single wire conveys all of the small headset’s data, so mice can move more freely than when wearing other devices. © 2024 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 29244 - Posted: 04.06.2024

By Nico Dosenbach, Scott Marek In 2022, we caused a stir when, together with Brenden Tervo-Clemmens and Damien Fair, we published an article in Nature titled “Reproducible brain-wide association studies require thousands of participants.” The study garnered a lot of attention—press coverage, including in Spectrum, as well as editorials and commentary in journals. In hindsight, the consternation we caused in calling for larger sample sizes makes sense; up to that point, most brain imaging studies of this type were based on samples with fewer than 100 participants, so our findings called for a major change. But it was an eye-opening experience that taught us how difficult it is to convey a nuanced scientific message and to guard against oversimplifications and misunderstandings, even among experts. Being scientific is hard for human brains, but as an adversarial collaboration on a massive scale, science is our only method for collectively separating how we want things to be from how they are. The paper emerged from an analysis of the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, a large longitudinal brain-imaging project. Starting with data from 2,000 children, Scott showed that an average brain connectivity map he made using half of the large sample replicated almost perfectly in the other half. But when he mapped the association between resting-state activity—a measure of the brain during rest—and intelligence in two matched sets of 1,000 children, he found large differences in the patterns. Even with a sample size of 2,000—large in the human brain imaging world—the brain-behavior maps showed poor reproducibility. For card-carrying statisticians, the result was not surprising. It reflected a pattern known as the winner’s curse, namely that large cross-sectional correlations can occur by chance in small samples. Paradoxically, the largest correlations will be “statistically significant” and therefore most likely to be published, even though they are the most likely to be wrong. © 2024 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 29215 - Posted: 03.26.2024

By Nora Bradford Early in her research, forensic anthropologist Alexandra Morton-Hayward came across a paper describing a 2,500-year-old brain preserved in a severed skull. The paper referenced another preserved brain. She found another. And another. By the time she’d reached 12, she noticed all of the papers described the brains as a unique phenomenon. She kept digging. Naturally preserved brains, it turns out, aren’t so rare after all, Morton-Hayward, of the University of Oxford, and colleagues report March 20 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The researchers have built an archive of 4,400 human brains preserved in the archaeological record, some dating back nearly 12,000 years. The archive includes brains from North Pole explorers, Inca sacrificial victims and Spanish Civil War soldiers. Because the brains have been described as exceptionally rare, little research has been done on them. “If they’re precious, one-of-a-kind materials, then you don’t want to analyze them or disturb them,” Morton-Hayward says. Less than 1 percent of the archive has been investigated. Matching where the brains were found with historical climate patterns hints at what might keep the brains from decaying. Over a third of the samples persisted because of dehydration; others were frozen or tanned. Depending on the conditions, the brains’ texture could be anywhere from dry and brittle to squishy and tofulike. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2024.

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 29206 - Posted: 03.21.2024

By Claudia López Lloreda Loss of smell, headaches, memory problems: COVID-19 can bring about a troubling storm of neurological symptoms that make everyday tasks difficult. Now new research adds to the evidence that inflammation in the brain might underlie these symptoms. Not all data point in the same direction. Some new studies suggest that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, directly infects brain cells. Those findings bolster the hypothesis that direct infection contributes to COVID-19-related brain problems. But the idea that brain inflammation is key has gotten fresh support: one study, for example, has identified specific brain areas prone to inflammation in people with COVID-191. “The whole body of literature is starting to come together a little bit more now and give us some more concrete answers,” says Nicola Fletcher, a neurovirologist at University College Dublin. Immunological storm When researchers started looking for a culprit for the brain problems caused by COVID-19, inflammation quickly became a key suspect. That’s because inflammation — the flood of immune cells and chemicals that the body releases against intruders — has been linked to the cognitive symptoms caused by other viruses, such as HIV. SARS-CoV-2 stimulates a strong immune response throughout the body, but it was unclear whether brain cells themselves contributed to this response and, if so, how. Helena Radbruch, a neuropathologist at the Charité – Berlin University Medicine, and her colleagues looked at brain samples from people who’d died of COVID-19. They didn’t find any cells infected with SARS-CoV-2. But they did find these people had more immune activity in certain brain areas than did people who died from other causes. This unusual activity was noticeable in regions such as the olfactory bulb, which is involved in smell, and the brainstem, which controls some bodily functions, such as breathing. It was seen only in the brains of people who had died soon after catching the virus. © 2024 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Attention
Link ID: 29202 - Posted: 03.21.2024

By Clay Risen Mary Bartlett Bunge, who with her husband, Richard, studied how the body responds to spinal cord injuries and continued their work after his death in 1996, ultimately discovering a promising treatment to restore movement to millions of paralyzed patients, died on Feb. 17, at her home in Coral Gables, Fla. She was 92. The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, a nonprofit research organization with which Dr. Bunge (pronounced BUN-ghee) was affiliated, announced the death. “She definitely was the top woman in neuroscience, not just in the United States but in the world,” Dr. Barth Green, a co-founder and dean at the Miami Project, said in a phone interview. Dr. Bunge’s focus for much of her career was on myelin, a mix of proteins and fatty acids that coats nerve fibers, protecting them and boosting the speed at which they conduct signals. Early in her career, she and her husband, whom she met as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin in the 1950s, used new electron microscopes to describe the way that myelin developed around nerve fibers, and how, after because of injury or illness, it receded, in a process called demyelination. Treating spinal-cord injuries is one of the most frustrating corners of medical research. Thousands of people are left partially or fully paralyzed after automobile accidents, falls, sports injuries and gun violence each year. Unlike other parts of the body, the spinal cord is stubbornly difficult to rehabilitate. Through their research, the Bunges concluded that demyelination was one reason spinal-cord injuries have been so difficult for the body to repair — an insight that in turn opened doors to the possibility of reversing it through treatments. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Glia; Regeneration
Link ID: 29175 - Posted: 03.05.2024

By Liam Drew The first person to receive a brain-monitoring device from neurotechnology company Neuralink can control a computer cursor with their mind, Elon Musk, the firm’s founder, revealed this week. But researchers say that this is not a major feat — and they are concerned about the secrecy around the device’s safety and performance. The company is “only sharing the bits that they want us to know about”, says Sameer Sheth, a neurosurgeon specializing in implanted neurotechnology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. “There’s a lot of concern in the community about that.” Threads for thoughts Musk announced on 29 January that Neuralink had implanted a brain–computer interface (BCI) into a human for the first time. Neuralink, which is headquartered in Fremont, California, is the third company to start long-term trials in humans. Some implanted BCIs sit on the brain’s surface and record the average firing of populations of neurons, but Neuralink’s device, and at least two others, penetrates the brain to record the activity of individual neurons. Neuralink’s BCI contains 1,024 electrodes — many more than previous systems — arranged on innovative pliable threads. The company has also produced a surgical robot for inserting its device. But it has not confirmed whether that system was used for the first human implant. Details about the first recipient are also scarce, although Neuralink’s volunteer recruitment brochure says that people with quadriplegia stemming from certain conditions “may qualify”.

Keyword: Robotics; Brain imaging
Link ID: 29163 - Posted: 02.25.2024

By Miryam Naddaf Moving a prosthetic arm. Controlling a speaking avatar. Typing at speed. These are all things that people with paralysis have learnt to do using brain–computer interfaces (BCIs) — implanted devices that are powered by thought alone. These devices capture neural activity using dozens to hundreds of electrodes embedded in the brain. A decoder system analyses the signals and translates them into commands. Although the main impetus behind the work is to help restore functions to people with paralysis, the technology also gives researchers a unique way to explore how the human brain is organized, and with greater resolution than most other methods. Scientists have used these opportunities to learn some basic lessons about the brain. Results are overturning assumptions about brain anatomy, for example, revealing that regions often have much fuzzier boundaries and job descriptions than was thought. Such studies are also helping researchers to work out how BCIs themselves affect the brain and, crucially, how to improve the devices. “BCIs in humans have given us a chance to record single-neuron activity for a lot of brain areas that nobody’s ever really been able to do in this way,” says Frank Willett, a neuroscientist at Stanford University in California who is working on a BCI for speech. The devices also allow measurements over much longer time spans than classical tools do, says Edward Chang, a neurosurgeon at the University of California, San Francisco. “BCIs are really pushing the limits, being able to record over not just days, weeks, but months, years at a time,” he says. “So you can study things like learning, you can study things like plasticity, you can learn tasks that require much, much more time to understand.” © 2024 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Brain imaging; Robotics
Link ID: 29159 - Posted: 02.22.2024

Nicola Davis Science correspondent From forgetfulness to difficulties concentrating, many people who have long Covid experience “brain fog”. Now researchers say the symptom could be down to the blood-brain barrier becoming leaky. The barrier controls which substances or materials enter and exit the brain. “It’s all about regulating a balance of material in blood compared to brain,” said Prof Matthew Campbell, co-author of the research at Trinity College Dublin. “If that is off balance then it can drive changes in neural function and if this happens in brain regions that allow for memory consolidation/storage then it can wreak havoc.” Writing in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Campbell and colleagues report how they analysed serum and plasma samples from 76 patients who were hospitalised with Covid in March or April 2020, as well 25 people before the pandemic. Among other findings, the team discovered that samples from the 14 Covid patients who self-reported brain fog contained higher levels of a protein called S100β than those from Covid patients without this symptom, or people who had not had Covid. caskets at a funeral home This protein is produced by cells within the brain, and is not normally found in the blood, suggesting these patients had a breakdown of the blood-brain barrier. The researchers then recruited 10 people who had recovered from Covid and 22 people with long Covid – 11 of whom reported having brain fog. None had, at that point, received a Covid vaccine, or been hospitalised for Covid. These participants underwent an MRI scan in which a dye was administered intravenously. The results reveal long Covid patients with brain fog did indeed show signs of a leaky blood-brain barrier, but not those without this symptom, or who had recovered. © 2024 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 29158 - Posted: 02.22.2024

Rob Stein Benjamin Franklin famously wrote: "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." While that may still be true, there's a controversy simmering today about one of the ways doctors declare people to be dead. The debate is focused on the Uniform Determination of Death Act, a law that was adopted by most states in the 1980s. The law says that death can be declared if someone has experienced "irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain." But some parts of the brain can continue to function in people who have been declared brain dead, prompting calls to revise the statute. Many experts say the discrepancy needs to be resolved to protect patients and their families, maintain public trust and reconcile what some see as a troubling disconnect between the law and medical practice. The debate became so contentious, however, that the Uniform Law Commission, the group charged with rewriting model laws for states, paused its process last summer because participants couldn't reach a consensus. "I'm worried," says Thaddeus Pope, a bioethicist and lawyer at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. "There's a lot of conflict at the bedside over this at hospitals across the United States. Let's get in front of it and fix it before it becomes a crisis. It's such an important question that everyone needs to be on the same page." The second method, brain death, can be declared for people who have sustained catastrophic brain injury causing the permanent cessation of all brain function, such as from a massive traumatic brain injury or massive stroke, but whose hearts are still pumping through the use of ventilators or other artificial forms of life support. © 2024 npr

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Brain imaging
Link ID: 29147 - Posted: 02.13.2024

Nicholas J. Kelley In the middle of 2023, a study conducted by the HuthLab at the University of Texas sent shockwaves through the realms of neuroscience and technology. For the first time, the thoughts and impressions of people unable to communicate with the outside world were translated into continuous natural language, using a combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and brain imaging technology. This is the closest science has yet come to reading someone’s mind. While advances in neuroimaging over the past two decades have enabled non-responsive and minimally conscious patients to control a computer cursor with their brain, HuthLab’s research is a significant step closer towards accessing people’s actual thoughts. As Alexander Huth, the neuroscientist who co-led the research, told the New York Times: Combining AI and brain-scanning technology, the team created a non-invasive brain decoder capable of reconstructing continuous natural language among people otherwise unable to communicate with the outside world. The development of such technology – and the parallel development of brain-controlled motor prosthetics that enable paralysed patients to achieve some renewed mobility – holds tremendous prospects for people suffering from neurological diseases including locked-in syndrome and quadriplegia. In the longer term, this could lead to wider public applications such as fitbit-style health monitors for the brain and brain-controlled smartphones. On January 29, Elon Musk announced that his Neuralink tech startup had implanted a chip in a human brain for the first time. He had previously told followers that Neuralink’s first product, Telepathy, would one day allow people to control their phones or computers “just by thinking”. © 2010–2024, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 29136 - Posted: 02.08.2024

Jon Hamilton Scientists know that Black people are at a greater risk for health problems like heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease than white people. A growing body of research shows that racism in health care and in daily life contributes to these long-standing health disparities for Black communities. Now, some researchers are asking whether part of the explanation involves how racism, across individual interactions and systems, may physically alter the brain. "That could be behaviors like, let's say, a woman clutching her purse as a black man is walking next to her. Or they could be verbal, like someone saying, like... 'I didn't expect you to be so articulate,'" says Negar Fani, a clinical neuroscientist at Emory University who studies people experiencing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Recently, Fani has collaborated with Nate Harnett, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, to study how the brain responds to traumatic events and extreme stress, including the events and stress related to racism. So how does one go about measuring the impact of zoomed out, societal-scale issues on the individual? Harnett is the first to admit, it's not the simplest task. "It's very difficult for neuroimaging to look specifically at redlining," notes Harnett. But he can—indirectly. For example, Harnett has used inequities in neighborhood resources as a way of tracking or measuring structural racism. "We're able to look at these sort of proxy measures in these outcomes of structural racism and then correlate those with both brain and behavioral responses to stress or trauma and see how they tie with different psychiatric disorders like PTSD," Harnett says. In other research, Harnett and Fani have looked at correlations between racial discrimination and the response to threat in Black women who had experienced trauma. Fani says patients who experience PTSD tend to be more vigilant or show hyperarousal and be startled easily. Fani says their bodies are in a constant state of fight or flight—even when they're in a safe situation. But in patients who've also experienced racial discrimination, Fani says she sees the opposite effect: They show an increased activation in areas related to emotion regulation. In some ways, Fani says this activation can be adaptive. For example, people may experience microaggressions or discrimination at work and need to regulate their emotional response in order to get through the moment. But when people have to utilize this strategy over long periods of time, Fani and Harnett think it may contribute to the degradation they've seen in other areas in the brain. © 2024 npr

Keyword: Stress; Aggression
Link ID: 29114 - Posted: 01.27.2024

By Evelyn Lake Functional MRI (fMRI), though expensive, has many properties of an ideal clinical tool. It’s safe and noninvasive. It is widely available in some countries, and increasingly so on a global scale. Its “blood oxygen level dependent,” or BOLD, signal is altered in people with almost any neurological condition and is rich enough to contain information specific to each person, offering the potential for a personalized approach to medical care across a wide spectrum of neurological conditions. But despite enormous interest and investment in fMRI — and its wide use in basic neuroscience research — it still lacks broad clinical utility; it is mainly employed for surgical planning. For fMRI to inform a wider range of clinical decision-making, we need better ways of deciphering what underlying changes in the brain drive changes to the BOLD signal. If someone with Alzheimer’s disease has an increase in functional connectivity (a measure of synchrony between brain regions), for example, does this indicate that synapses are being lost? Or does it suggest that the brain is forming compensatory pathways to help the person avoid further cognitive decline? Or something else entirely? Depending on the answer, one can imagine different courses of treatment. Put simply, we cannot extract sufficient information from fMRI and patient outcomes alone to determine which scenarios are playing out and therefore what we should do when we observe changes in our fMRI readouts. To better understand what fMRI actually shows, we need to use complementary methodologies, such as the emerging optical imaging tool of wide-field fluorescence calcium imaging. Combining modalities presents significant technical challenges but offers the potential for deeper insights: observing the BOLD signal alongside other signals that report more directly on what is occurring in brain tissue. Using these more direct measurements instead of fMRI in clinical practice is not an option — they are unethical to use in people or invasive, requiring physical or optical access to the brain. © 2023 Simons Foundation.

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 29109 - Posted: 01.23.2024

By Mark Johnson In the first study of its kind in humans, researchers have discovered that it is safe to use sound waves fired into specific areas of the brain to open a protective barrier and clear the way for Alzheimer’s medications. The study, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, involved just three patients, but it raises hope about the long-term potential of the treatment strategy known as focused ultrasound. “We want to be very cautious. This is the first three people in the world that have had this [treatment]. What we’ve learned from this, I think, can help us,” said Ali Rezai, lead author of the study and executive chair and director of the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute at West Virginia University. Rezai stressed that the goal of the research is not to replace pharmaceutical treatments but to improve their benefits by helping more of the drug penetrate the brain. Nature has provided humans with a barrier made of tightly packed cells that blocks harmful toxins, such as viruses, bacteria and fungi, from reaching the brain. Known as the blood-brain barrier, this shield has for decades presented a major challenge to scientists trying to treat neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, which afflict at least 7 million Americans. The barrier is a locked door that stops about 98 percent of treatments from reaching the brain. With focused ultrasound, Rezai explained, “what we want to do is push individuals toward the milder stages of Alzheimer’s with less plaques to give them a fighting chance.” Two men and a woman suffering from mild loss of memory, learning, concentration and decision-making skills due to Alzheimer’s took part in the study. The patients, who ranged in age from 59 to 77, were given six monthly doses of the federally approved — if somewhat controversial — lab-made antibody aducanumab, sold under the brand name Aduhelm. The antibody, which is administered directly into a patient’s vein, reduces a sticky substance in the brain called amyloid beta, which clumps between neurons and disrupts their function.

Keyword: Alzheimers; Brain imaging
Link ID: 29085 - Posted: 01.09.2024