Chapter 13. Memory and Learning

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By Lara Lewington, It's long been known that our lifestyles can help to keep us healthier for longer. Now scientists are asking whether new technology can also help slow down the ageing process of our brains by keeping track of what happens to them as we get older. One sunny morning, 76-year-old Dutch-born Marijke and her husband Tom welcomed me in for breakfast at their home in Loma Linda, an hour east of Los Angeles. Oatmeal, chai seeds, berries, but no processed sugary cereal or coffee were served - a breakfast as pure as Loma Linda’s mission. Loma Linda has been identified as one of the world’s so-called Blue Zones, places where people have lengthier-than-average lifespans. In this case, it is the city’s Seventh-Day Adventist Church community who are living longer. They generally don’t drink alcohol or caffeine, stick to a vegetarian or even vegan diet and consider it a duty of their religion to look after their bodies as best they can. This is their “health message”, as they call it, and it has put them on the map - the city has been the subject of decades of research into why its residents live better for longer. Dr Gary Fraser from the University of Loma Linda told me members of the Seventh-Day Adventist community there can expect not only a longer lifespan, but an increased “healthspan” - that is, time spent in good health - of four to five years extra for women and seven years extra for men. Marijke and Tom had moved to the city later in life, but both were now firmly embedded in the community. Copyright 2024 BBC.

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 29391 - Posted: 07.13.2024

Anna Bawden The idea that night owls who don’t go to bed until the early hours struggle to get anything done during the day may have to be revised. It turns out that staying up late could be good for our brain power as research suggests that people who identify as night owls could be sharper than those who go to bed early. Researchers led by academics at Imperial College London studied data from the UK Biobank study on more than 26,000 people who had completed intelligence, reasoning, reaction time and memory tests. They then examined how participants’ sleep duration, quality, and chronotype (which determines what time of day we feel most alert and productive) affected brain performance. They found that those who stay up late and those classed as “intermediate” had “superior cognitive function”, while morning larks had the lowest scores. Going to bed late is strongly associated with creative types. Artists, authors and musicians known to be night owls include Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, James Joyce, Kanye West and Lady Gaga. But while politicians such as Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill and Barack Obama famously seemed to thrive on little sleep, the study found that sleep duration is important for brain function, with those getting between seven and nine hours of shut-eye each night performing best in cognitive tests. © 2024 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Biological Rhythms; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 29389 - Posted: 07.11.2024

By Teddy Rosenbluth The process for diagnosing a child with autism heavily relies on a parent's description of their child’s behavior and a professional’s observations. It leaves plenty of room for human error. Parents’ concerns may skew how they answer questionnaires. Providers may hold biases, leading them to underdiagnose certain groups. Children may show widely varying symptoms, depending on factors like culture and gender. A study published Monday in Nature Microbiology bolsters a growing body of research that suggests an unlikely path to more objective autism diagnoses: the gut microbiome. After analyzing more than 1,600 stool samples from children ages 1 to 13, researchers found several distinct biological “markers” in the samples of autistic children. Unique traces of gut bacteria, fungi, viruses and more could one day be the basis of a diagnostic tool, said Qi Su, a researcher at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a lead author of the study. A tool based on biomarkers could help professionals diagnose autism sooner, giving children access to treatments that are more effective at a younger age, he said. “Too much is left to questionnaires,” said Sarkis Mazmanian, a microbiome researcher at the California Institute of Technology. “If we can get to something we can measure — whatever it is — that’s a huge improvement.” For decades, researchers have scoured the human genome, medical histories and brain scans for a reliable indicator of A.S.D., with limited success. The Food and Drug Administration has approved two diagnostic tests based on eye-tracking software, which Dr. Su said required significant involvement from a psychiatrist. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 29386 - Posted: 07.09.2024

By Tyler Sloan If I ask you to picture a group of “neurons firing,” what comes to mind? For most people, it’s a few isolated neurons flashing in synchrony. This type of minimalist representation of neurons is common within neuroscience, inspired in part by Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s elegant depictions of the nervous system. His work left a deep mark on our intuitions, but the method he used—Golgi staining—highlights just 1 to 5 percent of neurons. More than a century later, researchers have mapped out brain connectivity in such detail that it easily becomes overwhelming; I vividly recall an undergraduate neurophysiology lecture in which the professor showed a wiring diagram of the primary visual cortex to make the point that it was too complex to understand. We’ve reached a point where simple wiring diagrams no longer suffice to represent what we’re learning about the brain. Advances in experimental and computational neuroscience techniques have made it possible to map brains in more detail than ever before. The wiring diagram for the whole fly brain, for example, mapped at single-synapse resolution, comprises 2.7 million cell-to-cell connections and roughly 150 million synapses. Building an intuitive understanding of this type of complexity will require new tools for representing neural connectivity in a way that is both meaningful and compact. To do this, we will have to embrace the elaborate and move beyond the single neuron to a more “maximalist” approach to visualizing the nervous system. I spent my Ph.D. studying the spinal cord, where commissural growth cones are depicted as pioneers on a railhead extending through uncharted territory. The watershed moment for me was seeing a scanning electron micrograph of the developing spinal cord for the first time and suddenly understanding the growth cone’s dense environment—its path was more like squeezing through a crowded concert than wandering across an empty field. I realized how poor my own intuitions were, which nudged me toward learning the art of 3D visualization. © 2024 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Brain imaging; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 29385 - Posted: 07.09.2024

By Charles Q. Choi Chimeroids—brain organoids grown from the cells of multiple people—offer scientists a novel way to compare individual differences in response to drugs, infections or pathogenic variants, according to a new study in Nature. “The possibilities are endless,” says lead investigator Paola Arlotta, professor and chair of stem cell and regenerative biology at Harvard University. The approach overcomes a longstanding issue that has plagued any comparison of organoids derived from different people: Disparities between the organoids might reflect genetic dissimilarities between individual people but could also result just from inadvertent variations in how each organoid was grown, says Aparna Bhaduri, assistant professor of biological chemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles, who did not contribute to the new study. Mixing cells from multiple donors into a single organoid makes it possible to grow all the cells under the same conditions and makes it more likely that any differences seen between the cells are rooted in genetic variations between the people, Bhaduri says. Initially, Arlotta’s team tried to produce chimeroids by mixing pluripotent stem cells from multiple donors. But one person’s cells usually outgrew the others to make up most of each organoid. Even small differences in the stem cells’ extremely high growth rates easily led one person’s cells to overshadow the others, the team noted. So instead, the researchers grew the stem cells independently in organoids until they began to proliferate more slowly as neural stem cells or neural progenitor cells. They then broke these organoids apart and mixed them together, producing the chimeroids that developed with balanced numbers of up to five donors’ cells. Each cell line in the chimeroids could produce all the cell types normally found in the cerebral cortex, Arlotta and her colleagues discovered using DNA and RNA sequencing techniques. © 2024 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 29381 - Posted: 07.06.2024

By Paula Span About a month ago, Judith Hansen popped awake in the predawn hours, thinking about her father’s brain. Her father, Morrie Markoff, was an unusual man. At 110, he was thought to be the oldest in the United States. His brain was unusual, too, even after he recovered from a stroke at 99. Although he left school after the eighth grade to work, Mr. Markoff became a successful businessman. Later in life, his curiosity and creativity led him to the arts, including photography and sculpture fashioned from scrap metal. He was a healthy centenarian when he exhibited his work at a gallery in Los Angeles, where he lived. At 103, he published a memoir called “Keep Breathing.” He blogged regularly, pored over The Los Angeles Times daily, discussed articles in Scientific American and followed the national news on CNN and “60 Minutes.” Now he was nearing death, enrolled in home hospice care. “In the middle of the night, I thought, ‘Dad’s brain is so great,’” said Ms. Hansen, 82, a retired librarian in Seattle. “I went online and looked up ‘brain donation.’” Her search led to a National Institutes of Health web page explaining that its NeuroBioBank, established in 2013, collected post-mortem human brain tissue to advance neurological research. Through the site, Ms. Hansen contacted the nonprofit Brain Donor Project. It promotes and simplifies donations through a network of university brain banks, which distribute preserved tissue to research teams. Tish Hevel, the founder of the project, responded quickly, putting Ms. Hansen and her brother in touch with the brain bank at the University of California, Los Angeles. Brain donors may have neurological and other diseases, or they may possess healthy brains, like Mr. Markoff’s. “We’re going to learn so much from him,” Ms. Hevel said. “What is it about these superagers that allows them to function at such a high level for so long?” © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Brain imaging
Link ID: 29379 - Posted: 07.06.2024

By Abdullahi Tsanni Time takes its toll on the eyes. Now a funky, Hitchcockian video of 64 eyeballs, all rolling and blinking in different directions, is providing a novel visual of one way in which eyes age. A video display of 64 eyeballs, captured using eye trackers, helped researchers compare the size of younger and older study participants’ pupils under differing light conditions, confirming aging affects our eyes. Lab studies have previously shown that the eye’s pupil size shrinks as people get older, making the pupil less responsive to light. A new study that rigged volunteers up with eye-trackers and GoPro videos and sent them traipsing around a university campus has confirmed what happens in the lab happens in real life, too. While pupils remain sensitive to changing light conditions, pupil size can decrease up to about 0.4 millimeters per decade, researchers report June 19 in Royal Society Open Science. “We see a big age effect,” says Manuel Spitschan, a neuroscientist at Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tubingen, Germany. The change helps explain why it can be increasingly harder for people to see in dim light as they age. Light travels through the dark pupil in the center of the eye to the retina, a layer of cells in the back of the eyes that converts the light into images. The pupil’s size can vary from 2 to 8 millimeters in diameter depending on light conditions, getting smaller in bright light and larger in dim light. “With a small pupil, less light enters the eye,” Spitschan says. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2024.

Keyword: Vision; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 29375 - Posted: 07.03.2024

Richard Luscombe Federal health authorities on Tuesday gave approval to an experimental new drug that has shown to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in trials. Donanemab, manufactured by Eli Lilly, is the second medication that has won the blessing of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat patients showing early symptoms of the disease, most prominently cognitive impairment. Last year, authorities cleared the drug lecanemab, marketed under the brand name Leqembi, after it demonstrated a similar decline in the progression of Alzheimer’s in a control group. The treatments are not a cure, but the first to physically alter the course of the disease rather than just addressing its symptoms, the FDA said. The video player is currently playing an ad. Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly reported the success of its trial a year ago, and subsequently applied for the FDA authorization that was announced today. Experts at the time said it “could be the beginning of the end of Alzheimer’s disease”, which affects almost 7 million people, mostly older Americans, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. “Kisunla demonstrated very meaningful results for people with early symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease, who urgently need effective treatment options,” Anne White, executive vice-president of Eli Lilly said on Tuesday, referring to donanemab by the brand name it will be sold under. © 2024 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 29374 - Posted: 07.03.2024

By Charles Q. Choi The largest-yet single-cell genomics analysis reveals new details of the molecular pathways and cell types that are altered in the cortex in people with autism. The work, published last month in Science, also hints at how genes linked to the condition contribute to these brain differences. The findings are part of a package of 14 new papers from PsychENCODE, a multi-institution consortium launched in 2015 to study the molecular basis of neuropsychiatric conditions. The initiative’s latest phase of research analyzed human brains at the single-cell level instead of relying on bulk tissue samples as in previous efforts. “Single-cell analysis gives you the ability to really understand a condition in terms of cell-cell interactions, and how a condition might affect different cell types in very different ways,” says PsychENCODE chair Daniel Geschwind, professor of human genetics, neurology and psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, who led the new autism study. Past work by Geschwind and others identified a “molecular signature” in tissue samples of autism brains, characterized by increased expression of immune signaling genes, decreased activity of synaptic and neuronal genes, and a reduction in the regional gene-expression patterns typically seen across the cortex. The first single-cell analysis—involving cells from 15 autistic and 16 non-autistic people, and published in 2019—hinted at a role for microglia and excitatory neurons in layer 2/3 of the cortex. The new study confirms these previous findings and expands autism’s molecular signature to include a subtype of interneurons and layer 5/6 excitatory neurons, which project to other cortical areas. It also adds gene-expression changes, such as heightened immune responses in oligodendrocytes, cells that help produce the myelin sheath insulating the central nervous system. “That suggests there may be something going on broadly with connectivity in autism,” Geschwind says. © 2024 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Autism; Epigenetics
Link ID: 29371 - Posted: 06.26.2024

By Shaena Montanari Five years ago, while working to develop a tool to label neurons active during seizures in mice, Quynh Anh Nguyen noticed something she had not seen before. “There was a particular region in the brain that seemed to light up really prominently,” she says. Nguyen, assistant professor of pharmacology at Vanderbilt University, had induced seizures in the animals by injecting kainic acid into the hippocampus—a common strategy to model temporal lobe epilepsy. The condition often involves hyperactivity in the anterior and middle regions of the hippocampus, but Nguyen’s mice also showed the activation in a tiny posterior part of the hippocampus that she was not familiar with. Nguyen brought the data to her then-supervisor Ivan Soltesz, professor of neurosciences and neurosurgery at Stanford University. Together they realized that these neurons were in an area called the fasciola cinereum—a subregion of the hippocampus so understudied, Soltesz says, that when Nguyen first asked him what it was, he had “no idea.” Despite the subregion’s obscurity, it looks to be an important and previously overlooked contributor to epilepsy in people who do not respond to anti-seizure medications or tissue ablation in the hippocampus, Nguyen and her colleagues say. Fasciola cinereum neurons were active during seizures in six people with drug-resistant epilepsy, the team reported in April. © 2024 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Epilepsy
Link ID: 29360 - Posted: 06.15.2024

By Max Kozlov A crucial brain signal linked to long-term memory falters in rats when they are deprived of sleep — which might help to explain why poor sleep disrupts memory formation1. Even a night of normal slumber after a poor night’s sleep isn’t enough to fix the brain signal. These results, published today in Nature, suggest that there is a “critical window for memory processing”, says Loren Frank, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved with the study. “Once you’ve lost it, you’ve lost it.” In time, these findings could lead to targeted treatments to improve memory, says study co-author Kamran Diba, a computational neuroscientist at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. Neurons in the brain seldom act alone; they are highly interconnected and often fire together in a rhythmic or repetitive pattern. One such pattern is the sharp-wave ripple, in which a large group of neurons fire with extreme synchrony, then a second large group of neurons does the same and so on, one after the other at a particular tempo. These ripples occur in a brain area called the hippocampus, which is key to memory formation. The patterns are thought to facilitate communication with the neocortex, where long-term memories are later stored. One clue to their function is that some of these ripples are accelerated re-runs of brain-activity patterns that occurred during past events. For example, when an animal visits a particular spot in its cage, a specific group of neurons in the hippocampus fires in unison, creating a neural representation of that location. Later, these same neurons might participate in sharp-wave ripples — as if they were rapidly replaying snippets of that experience. © 2024 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Sleep
Link ID: 29358 - Posted: 06.13.2024

By Gina Kolata and Pam Belluck A committee of independent advisers to the Food and Drug Administration voted unanimously on Monday that the benefits outweigh the risks of the newest experimental drug for Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s afflicts more than six million Americans. It has no cure, and there is no treatment or lifestyle modification that can restore memory loss or reverse cognitive decline. The drug, made by Eli Lilly, is donanemab. It modestly slowed cognitive decline in patients in the early stages of the disease but also had significant safety risks, including swelling and bleeding in the brain. The committee concluded, though, that the consequences of Alzheimer’s are so dire that even a modest benefit can be worthwhile. The F.D.A. usually follows the advice of the agency’s advisory committees but not always. The drug is based on a long-held hypothesis that Alzheimer’s disease begins when rough hard balls of amyloid, a protein, pile up in patients’ brains, followed by a cascade of reactions leading to the death of neurons. The idea is to treat Alzheimer’s by attacking amyloid, clearing it from the brain. Two similar amyloid-fighting drugs were approved recently: Leqembi, made by Eisai and Biogen, was approved last year. That drug’s risks and modest benefits are similar to those of donanemab. Aduhelm, made by Biogen, is the other drug and was approved in 2021 but was discontinued because there was insufficient evidence that it could benefit patients. Donanemab was expected to be approved earlier this year, but in March, the F.D.A. decided that, instead, it would require donanemab to undergo the scrutiny of an independent advisory committee, a surprise to Eli Lilly. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 29354 - Posted: 06.11.2024

Hannah Devlin Science correspondent A 10-minute brain scan could detect dementia several years before people develop noticeable symptoms, a study suggests. Scientists used a scan of “resting” brain activity to identify whether people would go on to develop dementia, with an estimated 80% accuracy up to nine years before people received a diagnosis. If the findings were confirmed in a larger cohort, the scan could become a routine procedure in memory clinics, scientists said. “We’ve known for a long time that the function of the brain starts to change many years before you get dementia symptoms,” said Prof Charles Marshall, who led the work at Queen Mary University of London. “This could help us to be more precise at identifying those changes using an MRI scan that you could do on any NHS scanner.” The research comes as a new generation of Alzheimer’s drugs are on the horizon. The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is assessing lecanemab, made by Eisai and Biogen, and donanemab, made by Eli Lilly, and both drugs are widely expected to be licensed this year. “Predicting who is going to get dementia in the future will be vital for developing treatments that can prevent the irreversible loss of brain cells that causes the symptoms of dementia,” Marshall said. The researchers used functional MRI (fMRI) scans from 1,100 UK Biobank volunteers to detect changes in the brain’s “default mode network” (DMN). The scan measures correlations in brain activity between different regions while the volunteer lies still, not doing any particular task. The network, which reflects how effectively different regions are communicating with each other, is known to be particularly vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease. © 2024 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Alzheimers; Brain imaging
Link ID: 29349 - Posted: 06.08.2024

By Elissa Welle The traditional story of Alzheimer’s disease casts two key proteins in starring roles—each with clear stage directions: Plaques of sticky amyloid beta protein accumulate outside neurons as the condition unfolds, and tangles of tau protein gum up the insides of the cells. But it may be time for a rewrite. Amyloid beta, too, coalesces inside neurons and seems to mark them for early death, according to research posted on a preprint server last November. In brain slices from people with Alzheimer’s, but not in those from age-matched controls, cells containing intracellular amyloid beta decreased in number as the disease progressed. At first, the result appeared to be a mistake, says study investigator Alessia Caramello, a postdoctoral researcher in the UK Dementia Research Institute. Intracellular amyloid beta is “nowhere to be found” in most discussions of Alzheimer’s disease, she says. “It’s never mentioned. Never ever.” Instead, the field has long focused on the buildup of amyloid beta outside the cell. But even before those plaques form, there seems to be another pathological event, she says—namely intracellular amyloid—“Why not look at it?” The work from Caramello and her colleagues is not the first to suggest that amyloid beta, or Abeta for short, wreaks havoc inside neurons, not just in the extracellular space between them. This “inside-out” hypothesis, as it has been called, has implications for how scientists understand Alzheimer’s disease. In particular, it could help to account for some big mysteries around the condition—such as why the extent of amyloid beta plaques in the brain doesn’t always correlate with symptoms, why neurons die and why treatments to lessen plaques marginally slow down, but do not halt, the disease. “It just puts a totally different spin on how you need to address this,” says Gunnar Gouras, professor of experimental neurology at Lund University and a proponent of the inside-out hypothesis. “It’s really a cell biological, neurobiological issue that is a bit more complex. And we need to also study this instead of just saying, ‘Abeta is bad; we’ve got to get rid of it.’” © 2024 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 29335 - Posted: 06.02.2024

By Ben Casselman Long before people develop dementia, they often begin falling behind on mortgage payments, credit card bills and other financial obligations, new research shows. A team of economists and medical experts at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Georgetown University combined Medicare records with data from Equifax, the credit bureau, to study how people’s borrowing behavior changed in the years before and after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or a similar disorder. What they found was striking: Credit scores among people who later develop dementia begin falling sharply long before their disease is formally identified. A year before diagnosis, these people were 17.2 percent more likely to be delinquent on their mortgage payments than before the onset of the disease, and 34.3 percent more likely to be delinquent on their credit card bills. The issues start even earlier: The study finds evidence of people falling behind on their debts five years before diagnosis. “The results are striking in both their clarity and their consistency,” said Carole Roan Gresenz, a Georgetown University economist who was one of the study’s authors. Credit scores and delinquencies, she said, “consistently worsen over time as diagnosis approaches, and so it literally mirrors the changes in cognitive decline that we’re observing.” The research adds to a growing body of work documenting what many Alzheimer’s patients and their families already know: Decision-making, including on financial matters, can begin to deteriorate long before a diagnosis is made or even suspected. People who are starting to experience cognitive decline may miss payments, make impulsive purchases or put money into risky investments they would not have considered before the disease. “There’s not just getting forgetful, but our risk tolerance changes,” said Lauren Hersch Nicholas, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine who has studied dementia’s impact on people’s finances. “It might seem suddenly like a good move to move a diversified financial portfolio into some stock that someone recommended.” © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 29334 - Posted: 06.02.2024

By Elie Dolgin The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t just reshape how children learn and see the world. It transformed the shape of their eyeballs. As real-life classrooms and playgrounds gave way to virtual meetings and digital devices, the time that children spent focusing on screens and other nearby objects surged — and the time they spent outdoors dropped precipitously. This shift led to a notable change in children’s anatomy: their eyeballs lengthened to better accommodate short-vision tasks. Study after study, in regions ranging from Europe to Asia, documented this change. One analysis from Hong Kong even reported a near doubling in the incidence of pathologically stretched eyeballs among six-year-olds compared with pre-pandemic levels1. This elongation improves the clarity of close-up images on the retina, the light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye. But it also makes far-away objects appear blurry, leading to a condition known as myopia, or short-sightedness. And although corrective eyewear can usually address the issue — allowing children to, for example, see a blackboard or read from a distance — severe myopia can lead to more-serious complications, such as retinal detachment, macular degeneration, glaucoma and even permanent blindness. Rates of myopia were booming well before the COVID-19 pandemic. Widely cited projections in the mid-2010s suggested that myopia would affect half of the world’s population by mid-century (see ‘Rising prevalence’), which would effectively double the incidence rate in less than four decades2 (see ‘Affecting every age’). Now, those alarming predictions seem much too modest, says Neelam Pawar, a paediatric ophthalmologist at the Aravind Eye Hospital in Tirunelveli, India. “I don’t think it will double,” she says. “It will triple.” © 2024 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Vision; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 29329 - Posted: 05.29.2024

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 Yasemin Saplakoglu György Buzsáki first started tinkering with waves when he was in high school. In his childhood home in Hungary, he built a radio receiver, tuned it to various electromagnetic frequencies and used a radio transmitter to chat with strangers from the Faroe Islands to Jordan. He remembers some of these conversations from his “ham radio” days better than others, just as you remember only some experiences from your past. Now, as a professor of neuroscience at New York University, Buzsáki has moved on from radio waves to brain waves to ask: How does the brain decide what to remember? By studying electrical patterns in the brain, Buzsáki seeks to understand how our experiences are represented and saved as memories. New studies from his lab and others have suggested that the brain tags experiences worth remembering by repeatedly sending out sudden and powerful high-frequency brain waves. Known as “sharp wave ripples,” these waves, kicked up by the firing of many thousands of neurons within milliseconds of each other, are “like a fireworks show in the brain,” said Wannan Yang, a doctoral student in Buzsáki’s lab who led the new work, which was published in Science in March. They fire when the mammalian brain is at rest, whether during a break between tasks or during sleep. Sharp wave ripples were already known to be involved in consolidating memories or storing them. The new research shows that they’re also involved in selecting them — pointing to the importance of these waves throughout the process of long-term memory formation. It also provides neurological reasons why rest and sleep are important for retaining information. Resting and waking brains seem to run different programs: If you sleep all the time, you won’t form memories. If you’re awake all the time, you won’t form them either. “If you just run one algorithm, you will never learn anything,” Buzsáki said. “You have to have interruptions.” © 2024 the Simons Foundation.

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 29322 - Posted: 05.23.2024

By Angie Voyles Askham Some questions about neurons, such as how they give rise to behavior, are tricky to answer when those cells are embedded within their natural milieu. “Is residence in a nervous system sufficient to allow synapses to form?” says Kristin Baldwin, professor of genetics and development at Columbia University. “Are synapses that we can see sufficient to allow communication? And is synaptic communication sufficient to actually endow an animal with a set of behaviors that would be appropriate for it?” The best way to answer those questions is to put the cells in a new environment where their extrinsic and intrinsic influences can be teased apart, says Xin Jin, assistant professor of neuroscience at the Scripps Research Institute. For a long time, Jin says, that new environment was the unnatural setting of a petri dish. But two new studies that make use of chimeric mice—animals with both mouse and rat cells in their brain—point to another option: One demonstrates how rat stem cells can restore a mouse’s ability to smell, whereas the other shows how rat stem cells can give rise to a forebrain in mice that would otherwise lack one. The studies were published last month in Cell. Because rat brains are larger than mouse brains and develop at a different rate, the chimeras enable researchers to probe the competing forces of a cell’s intrinsic programming and its external environment. The work opens up doors for new research and the ability to explore the origins of species-specific cellular behaviors, says Jin, who was not involved in either study. “It’s sort of a fundamental ‘nature versus nurture,’” says Baldwin, who led one of the new studies. © 2024 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 29312 - Posted: 05.18.2024

By Lee Alan Dugatkin 1 The complexity of animal social behavior is astonishing I have studied animal behavior for more than 35 years, so I’m rarely surprised at just how nuanced, subtle, and complex the social behavior of nonhuman animals can be. But, every once in a while, that “my goodness, how astonishing!” feeling—which I felt so often in graduate school—returns. That’s how I felt when I read Kevin Oh and Alexander Badyaev’s work on sexual selection and social networks in house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus). The house finches in question, I learned while researching my book, live on the campus of the University of Arizona, where, in 2003, Oh was doing his graduate work and Badyaev was a young assistant professor. Using data on thousands of finches they banded over six years, these two researchers were able to map the social network the birds relied on during breeding season. This network was composed of 25 “neighborhoods” with an average of 30 finches per group. Females rarely left their neighborhoods to interact with birds in other neighborhoods. But how much males moved around from one neighborhood to the next depended on their coloring. Those with plenty of red coloration—which females tend to prefer as mating partners—generally remained put, just like females. But drabber colored males were more likely to socialize across many neighborhoods. The question was why? The answer was what rekindled my own sense of awe in the power of natural selection to shape animal social behavior. When Oh and Bedyaev mapped reproductive success in their house finches, they found that the most colorful males did well no matter what neighborhood they were in. Drab males, however, had greater reproductive success if they tried their luck all around town—essentially, this allowed them to find just the spot where their relative coloration was greatest and therefore most likely to score them a mate. In other words, they learned to play the field, restructuring social networks in a way that served their purposes best. 2 Technology is radically changing how scientists study the behavior of animals © 2024 NautilusNext Inc.,

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Evolution
Link ID: 29305 - Posted: 05.14.2024