Chapter 17. Learning and Memory

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Philip Ball How do you spot an optimistic pig? This isn’t the setup for a punchline; the question is genuine, and in the answer lies much that is revealing about our attitudes to other minds – to minds, that is, that are not human. If the notion of an optimistic (or for that matter a pessimistic) pig sounds vaguely comical, it is because we scarcely know how to think about other minds except in relation to our own. Here is how you spot an optimistic pig: you train the pig to associate a particular sound – a note played on a glockenspiel, say – with a treat, such as an apple. When the note sounds, an apple falls through a hatch so the pig can eat it. But another sound – a dog-clicker, say – signals nothing so nice. If the pig approaches the hatch on hearing the clicker, all it gets is a plastic bag rustled in its face. What happens now if the pig hears neither of these sounds, but instead a squeak from a dog toy? An optimistic pig might think there’s a chance that this, too, signals delivery of an apple. A pessimistic pig figures it will just get the plastic bag treatment. But what makes a pig optimistic? In 2010, researchers at Newcastle University showed that pigs reared in a pleasant, stimulating environment, with room to roam, plenty of straw, and “pig toys” to explore, show the optimistic response to the squeak significantly more often than pigs raised in a small, bleak, boring enclosure. In other words, if you want an optimistic pig, you must treat it not as pork but as a being with a mind, deserving the resources for a cognitively rich life. We don’t, and probably never can, know what it feels like to be an optimistic pig. Objectively, there’s no reason to suppose that it feels like anything: that there is “something it is like” to be a pig, whether apparently happy or gloomy. Until rather recently, philosophers and scientists have been reluctant to grant a mind to any nonhuman entity. Feelings and emotions, hope and pain and a sense of self were deemed attributes that separated us from the rest of the living world. To René Descartes in the 17th century, and to behavioural psychologist BF Skinner in the 1950s, other animals were stimulus-response mechanisms that could be trained but lacked an inner life. To grant animals “minds” in any meaningful sense was to indulge a crude anthropomorphism that had no place in science. © 2022 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Evolution; Intelligence
Link ID: 28367 - Posted: 06.11.2022

William E. Pelham, Jr. For decades, many physicians, parents and teachers have believed that stimulant medications help children with ADHD learn because they are able to focus and behave better when medicated. After all, an estimated 6.1 million children in the U.S. are diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and more than 90% are prescribed stimulant medication as the main form of treatment in school settings. However, in a peer-reviewed study that several colleagues and I published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, we found medication has no detectable effect on how much children with ADHD learn in the classroom. At least that’s the case when learning – defined as the acquisition of performable skills or knowledge through instruction – is measured in terms of tests meant to assess improvements in a student’s current academic knowledge or skills over time. Compared to their peers, children with ADHD exhibit more off-task, disruptive classroom behavior, earn lower grades and score lower on tests. They are more likely to receive special education services and be retained for a grade, and less likely to finish high school and enter college – two educational milestones that are associated with significant increases in earnings. In this study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, we evaluated 173 children between the ages of 7 and 12. They were all participants in our Summer Treatment Program, a comprehensive eight-week summer camp for children with ADHD and related behavioral, emotional and learning challenges. Children got grade-level instruction in vocabulary, science and social studies. The classes were led by certified teachers. The children received medication the first half of summer and a placebo during the other half. They were tested at the start of each academic instruction block, which lasted approximately three weeks. They then took the same test at the end to determine how much they learned. © 2010–2022, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: ADHD; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28366 - Posted: 06.11.2022

Helena Horton Environment reporter Otters are able to learn from each other – but still prefer to solve some puzzles on their own, scientists have found. The semi-aquatic mammals are known to be very social and intelligent creatures, but a study by the University of Exeter has given new insight into their intellect. Researchers gave otters “puzzle boxes”, some of which contained familiar food, while others held unfamiliar natural prey – shore crab and blue mussels, which are protected by hard outer shells. For the familiar food – meatballs, a favourite with the Asian short-clawed otters in the study – the scientists had five different types of boxes, and the method to extract the food changed in each version, for example pulling a tab or opening a flap. The unfamiliar food presented additional problems because the otters did not know if the crab and mussels were safe to eat and had no experience of getting them out of their shells. In order to decide whether food was safe and desirable to eat, the otters, which live at Newquay zoo and the Tamar Otter and Wildlife Centre, watched intently as their companions inspected what was in the boxes and copied if the other otters sampled the treats. However, they spent more time trying to figure out how to remove the meat from the shells on their own and relied less on the actions of their companions. Of the 20 otters in the study, 11 managed to extract the meat from all three types of natural prey. © 2022 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Evolution
Link ID: 28360 - Posted: 06.09.2022

Daniel Lavelle With ADHD, thoughts and impulses intrude on my focus like burglars trying to break into a house. Sometimes these crooks carefully pick the backdoor lock before they silently enter and pilfer all the silverware. At other times, stealth goes out of the window; they’re kicking through the front door and taking whatever they like. Either way, I was supposed to be reading a book just now, but all I can think about is how great it would be if I waded into a river to save a litter of kittens from tumbling down a waterfall just in the nick of time. I’ve got the kittens in my hand, and the crowd has gone wild; the spectres of Gandhi, Churchill and Obi-Wan Kenobi hover over the riverbank, nodding their approval while fireworks crackle overhead … I snap back and realise I’ve read three pages, only I don’t remember a single line. I reread the same pages, but the same thing happens, only now I’m so hung up on concentrating that another fantasy has hijacked my attention. This time I’m imagining that I’m super-focused, so focused that Manchester United have called and told me they want me to be their special penalty taker. These Walter Mitty, borderline narcissistic episodes persist for a while until I give up and go and be distracted somewhere else. Advertisement Unfortunately, I don’t take Ritalin, a stimulant prescribed to daydreamers like me, so when it comes to focusing I need all the help I can get. Enter Swiss developer and typographic designer Renato Casutt, who has spent six years trying to develop a typographical trick that helps people read more quickly and efficiently. “Bionic reading” is a font people can use on their devices via apps for iPhone and other Apple products. It works by highlighting a limited number of letters in a word in bold, and allowing your brain – or, more specifically, your memory – to fill in the rest. © 2022 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: ADHD; Dyslexia
Link ID: 28358 - Posted: 06.07.2022

Jon Hamilton An HIV drug — known as maraviroc — may have another, unexpected, use. The medication appears to restore a type of memory that allows us to link an event, like a wedding, with the people we saw there, a team reports in this week's issue of the journal Nature. Maraviroc's ability to improve this sort of memory was demonstrated in mice, but the drug acts on a brain system that's also found in humans and plays a role in a range of problems with the brain and nervous system. "You might have an effect in Alzheimer's disease, in stroke, in Parkinson's and also in spinal cord injuries," says Dr. S. Thomas Carmichael, chair of neurology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the study. The ability to link memories that occur around the same time is known as relational memory. It typically declines with age, and may be severely impaired in people with Alzheimer's disease. Problems with relational memory can appear in people who have no difficulty forming new memories, says Alcino Silva, an author of the new study and director of the Integrative Center for Learning and Memory at UCLA. "You learn about something, but you can't remember where you heard it. You can't remember who told you about it," Silva says. "These incidents happen more and more often as we go from middle age into older age." © 2022 npr

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28353 - Posted: 06.04.2022

By Benjamin Mueller Five years ago, Tal Iram, a young neuroscientist at Stanford University, approached her supervisor with a daring proposal: She wanted to extract fluid from the brain cavities of young mice and to infuse it into the brains of older mice, testing whether the transfers could rejuvenate the aging rodents. Her supervisor, Tony Wyss-Coray, famously had shown that giving old animals blood from younger ones could counteract and even reverse some of the effects of aging. But the idea of testing that principle with cerebrospinal fluid, the hard-to-reach liquid that bathes the brain and spinal cord, struck him as such a daunting technical feat that trying it bordered on foolhardy. “When we discussed this initially, I said, ‘This is so difficult that I’m not sure this is going to work,’” Dr. Wyss-Coray said. Dr. Iram persevered, working for a year just to figure out how to collect the colorless liquid from mice. On Wednesday, she reported the tantalizing results in the journal Nature: A week of infusions of young cerebrospinal fluid improved the memories of older mice. The finding was the latest indication that making brains resistant to the unrelenting changes of older age might depend less on interfering with specific disease processes and more on trying to restore the brain’s environment to something closer to its youthful state. “It highlights this notion that cerebrospinal fluid could be used as a medium to manipulate the brain,” Dr. Iram said. Turning that insight into a treatment for humans, though, is a more formidable challenge, the authors of the study said. The earlier studies about how young blood can reverse some signs of aging have led to recent clinical trials in which blood donations from younger people were filtered and given to patients with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. But exactly how successful those treatments might be, much less how widely they can be used, remains unclear, scientists said. And the difficulties of working with cerebrospinal fluid are steeper than those involved with blood. Infusing the fluid of a young human into an older patient is probably not possible; extracting the liquid generally requires a spinal tap, and scientists say that there are ethical questions about how to collect enough cerebrospinal fluid for infusions. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28327 - Posted: 05.14.2022

Imma Perfetto Have you ever driven past an intersection and registered you should have turned right a street ago, or been in a conversation and, as soon as the words are out of your mouth, realised you really shouldn’t have said that thing you just did? It’s a phenomenon known as performance monitoring; an internal signal produced by the brain that lets you know when you’ve made a mistake. Performance monitoring is a kind of self-generated feedback that’s essential to managing our daily lives. Now, neuroscientists have discovered that signals from neurons in the brain’s medial frontal cortex are responsible for it. A new study published in Science reports that these signals are used to give humans the flexibility to learn new tasks and the focus to develop highly specific skills. “Part of the magic of the human brain is that it is so flexible,” says senior author Ueli Rutishauser, professor of Neurosurgery, Neurology, and Biomedical Sciences at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, US. “We designed our study to decipher how the brain can generalise and specialise at the same time, both of which are critical for helping us pursue a goal.” They found that the performance monitoring signals help improve future attempts of a particular task by passing information to other areas of the brain. They also help the brain adjust its focus by signalling how much conflict or difficulty was encountered during the task. “An ‘Oops!’ moment might prompt someone to pay closer attention the next time they chat with a friend, or plan to stop at the store on the way home from work,” explains first author Zhongzheng Fu, researcher in the Rutishauser Laboratory at Cedars-Sinai.

Keyword: Attention; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28322 - Posted: 05.11.2022

Erin Spencer The octopus is one of the coolest animals in the sea. For starters, they are invertebrates. That means they don’t have backbones like humans, lions, turtles and birds. Understand new developments in science, health and technology, each week That may sound unusual, but actually, nearly all animals on Earth are invertebrates – about 97%. Octopuses are a specific type of invertebrate called cephalopods. The name means “head-feet” because the arms of cephalopods surround their heads. Other types of cephalopods include squid, nautiloids and cuttlefish. As marine ecologists, we conduct research on how ocean animals interact with each other and their environments. We’ve mostly studied fish, from lionfish to sharks, but we have to confess we remain captivated by octopuses. What octopuses eat depends on what species they are and where they live. Their prey includes gastropods, like snails and sea slugs; bivalves, like clams and mussels; crustaceans, like lobsters and crabs; and fish. To catch their food, octopuses use lots of strategies and tricks. Some octopuses wrap their arms – not tentacles – around prey to pull them close. Some use their hard beak to drill into the shells of clams. All octopuses are venomous; they inject toxins into their prey to overpower and kill them. There are about 300 species of octopus, and they’re found in every ocean in the world, even in the frigid waters around Antarctica. A special substance in their blood helps those cold-water species get oxygen. It also turns their blood blue. © 2010–2022, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Evolution; Intelligence
Link ID: 28321 - Posted: 05.11.2022

Joan L. Luby, M.D., John N. Constantino, M.D., Deanna M. Barch, Ph.D. Numerous studies of children in the US across decades have shown striking correlations between poverty and less-than-optimal physical and mental health and developmental outcomes. Trauma, poor health care, inadequate nutrition, and increased exposures to psychosocial stress and environmental toxins—all of which have significant negative developmental impact—are likely to be involved. The effects of elevated stress on child-caregiver relationships appear to be particularly detrimental, unsurprising in that nurturing and supportive caregiver relationships are foundational for healthy development in early childhood. For adults whose job options are unconducive to their role as parents (such as working multiple jobs or night shift hours), or for whom family support is unavailable, or for those do not have the material resources they need, the resulting stress may result in sleep disruption, depression, and anxiety—all of which translate to poor developmental trajectories for their children. Other health and developmental risks often associated with poverty include lead and other pollutants in air and water, poor nutrition (often related to living in “food desert” areas where healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables are scarce), neighborhood violence, and trauma. “Toxic stress” that exceeds a child’s ability to adapt can occur when the burden of stressful life experience overwhelms the brain’s regulatory capacity, or when the compensatory abilities of brain and body are compromised. A lack of cognitive stimulation (due to such factors as the absence of books and educational materials in the home, poor immersion in language, and a lack of after school or other enrichment activities) or disruption of sleep and circadian rhythms (by neighborhood noise or parents’ irregular work schedules) is likely to impact brain development and emotional and behavioral regulation when these systems are rapidly developing. © 2022 The Dana Foundation.

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Brain imaging
Link ID: 28288 - Posted: 04.16.2022

Kayt Sukel Each night, as you transition into deep sleep from wakefulness, your body undergoes a remarkable transformation. Your muscles relax. Your breathing slows. Your temperature and blood pressure drop. Even your brain activity changes, decelerating into slow, coordinated waves. Despite these remarkable physiological changes, scientists are now learning that the brain is far from idle during sleep. Rather, it remains hard at work, facilitating memory and learning while uncoupled from the external world. “For a long time, we believed that being awake all day depleted you and that sleep was what was required to restore and reinvigorate the whole body, including the brain,” says Robert Stickgold, a pioneering sleep researcher at Harvard Medical School. “It turns out that rest has very little to do with the function of sleep—rather, our brain is sorting and consolidating the information we learned during the day so we can better access it when it’s needed.” Anyone who has ever pulled an all-nighter knows the effect that sleep deprivation can have on cognitive function, including one’s ability to learn and retain new information. Yet, over the last few decades, neuroscientists across the globe have learned that sleep plays an integral role in memory—and it is a role that is highly conserved across the animal kingdom. To better understand how sleep helps us remember, these researchers have been working to characterize not only the physiological changes observed during sleep, but also the neural mechanisms underlying them. Nearly every animal on earth, from fruit flies to non-human primates, experiences some form of sleep, a naturally recurring state of altered consciousness and inhibited sensory activity. And while the exact amount of time spent in slumber, and the patterns of neural activity, differ from animal to animal, humans are no different. We need sleep to thrive. © 2022 The Dana Foundation.

Keyword: Sleep; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28285 - Posted: 04.16.2022

By Ariana Eunjung Cha People with “chemo brain” and covid brain fog could not seem more different: Those with “chemo brain” have a life-threatening disease for which they’ve taken toxic drugs or radiation. Many of those with covid brain fog, in contrast, describe themselves as previously healthy people who have had a relatively mild infection that felt like a cold. So when Stanford University neuroscientist Michelle Monje began studies on long covid, she was fascinated to find similar changes among patients in both groups, in specialized brain cells that serve as the organ’s surveillance and defense system. “It was really quite striking,” Monje said. In cancer patients undergoing treatment, a malfunction in those same cells, known as microglia, are believed to be a cause of the fuzzy thinking that many describe. Scientists have also theorized that in Alzheimer’s disease, these cells may be impeded, making it difficult for them to counteract the cellular wear and tear of aging. Monje’s project is part of a crucial and growing body of research that suggests similarities in the mechanisms of post-covid cognitive changes and other long-studied brain conditions, including “chemo brain,” Alzheimer’s and other post-viral syndromes following infections with influenza, Epstein-Barr, HIV or Ebola. “There is humongous overlap” between long covid and these other conditions, said Avindra Nath, intramural clinical director of the neurological disorders and stroke unit of the National Institutes of Health. Pre-covid, much of the medical research into brains (as well as other organs) was siloed by disease. But during the pandemic, as diverse scientists banded together to understand a complex, multi-organ disease, commonalities among the conditions began coming to light. © 1996-2022 The Washington Post

Keyword: Alzheimers; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28259 - Posted: 03.30.2022

By Laura Sanders Like all writers, I spend large chunks of my time looking for words. When it comes to the ultracomplicated and mysterious brain, I need words that capture nuance and uncertainties. The right words confront and address hard questions about exactly what new scientific findings mean, and just as importantly, why they matter. The search for the right words is on my mind because of recent research on COVID-19 and the brain. As part of a large brain-scanning study, researchers found that infections of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, were linked with less gray matter, tissue that’s packed with the bodies of brain cells. The results, published March 7 in Nature, prompted headlines about COVID-19 causing brain damage and shrinkage. That coverage, in turn, prompted alarmed posts on social media, including mentions of early-onset dementia and brain rotting. As someone who has reported on brain research for more than a decade, I can say those alarming words are not the ones that I would choose here. The study is one of the first to look at structural changes in the brain before and after a SARS-CoV-2 infection. And the study is meticulous. It was done by an expert group of brain imaging researchers who have been doing this sort of research for a very long time. As part of the UK Biobank project, 785 participants underwent two MRI scans. Between those scans, 401 people had COVID-19 and 384 people did not. By comparing the before and after scans, researchers could spot changes in the people who had COVID-19 and compare those changes with people who didn’t get the infection. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Attention
Link ID: 28246 - Posted: 03.19.2022

Jon Hamilton About 1 in 7 people age 60 or older have a brain condition that may be an early sign of Alzheimer's disease. The condition, called mild cognitive impairment, occupies a gray zone between normal aging of the brain and dementia. And most people know almost nothing about it. A national survey found that 82% of Americans are unfamiliar with the condition or know very little about it. More than half thought the symptoms sounded like "normal aging," according to the survey, which was part of a special report released this week by the Alzheimer's Association. "Mild cognitive impairment is often confused with normal aging because it is very subtle," says Maria Carrillo, chief science officer of the Alzheimer's Association. Symptoms include "forgetting people's names, forgetting perhaps that you've said something already, forgetting a story, forgetting words," she says. The condition, which affects about 10 million people in the U.S., is defined as changes in memory and thinking that are noticeable to the affected person and those around them but not serious enough to interfere with the individual's everyday activities. That makes it tricky to diagnose, says Dr. Pierre Tariot, director of the Banner Alzheimer's Institute in Phoenix. So after talking to a patient, Tariot often asks if he can speak with the person's spouse or a close family member. A patient's wife, for example, might notice that her husband is still managing to keep his appointments, Tariot says, but then she adds: "But a year ago, he had it all locked and loaded in his brain. And now, unless he writes it down 12 times and then asks me to double-check, he's not going to get there." © 2022 npr

Keyword: Alzheimers; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28243 - Posted: 03.19.2022

Yasemin Saplakoglu Imagine that while you are enjoying your morning bowl of Cheerios, a spider drops from the ceiling and plops into the milk. Years later, you still can’t get near a bowl of cereal without feeling overcome with disgust. Researchers have now directly observed what happens inside a brain learning that kind of emotionally charged response. In a new study published in January in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team at the University of Southern California was able to visualize memories forming in the brains of laboratory fish, imaging them under the microscope as they bloomed in beautiful fluorescent greens. From earlier work, they had expected the brain to encode the memory by slightly tweaking its neural architecture. Instead, the researchers were surprised to find a major overhaul in the connections. What they saw reinforces the view that memory is a complex phenomenon involving a hodgepodge of encoding pathways. But it further suggests that the type of memory may be critical to how the brain chooses to encode it — a conclusion that may hint at why some kinds of deeply conditioned traumatic responses are so persistent, and so hard to unlearn. “It may be that what we’re looking at is the equivalent of a solid-state drive” in the brain, said co-author Scott Fraser, a quantitative biologist at USC. While the brain records some types of memories in a volatile, easily erasable form, fear-ridden memories may be stored more robustly, which could help to explain why years later, some people can recall a memory as if reliving it, he said. Memory has frequently been studied in the cortex, which covers the top of the mammalian brain, and in the hippocampus at the base. But it’s been examined less often in deeper structures such as the amygdala, the brain’s fear regulation center. The amygdala is particularly responsible for associative memories, an important class of emotionally charged memories that link disparate things — like that spider in your cereal. While this type of memory is very common, how it forms is not well understood, partly because it occurs in a relatively inaccessible area of the brain. All Rights Reserved © 2022

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Brain imaging
Link ID: 28241 - Posted: 03.16.2022

By Pam Belluck Covid-19 may cause greater loss of gray matter and tissue damage in the brain than naturally occurs in people who have not been infected with the virus, a large new study found. The study, published Monday in the journal Nature, is believed to be the first involving people who underwent brain scans both before they contracted Covid and months after. Neurological experts who were not involved in the research said it was valuable and unique, but they cautioned that the implications of the changes were unclear and did not necessarily suggest that people might have lasting damage or that the changes might profoundly affect thinking, memory or other functions. The study, involving people aged 51 to 81, found shrinkage and tissue damage primarily in brain areas related to sense of smell; some of those areas are also involved in other brain functions, the researchers said. “To me, this is pretty convincing evidence that something changes in brains of this overall group of people with Covid,” said Dr. Serena Spudich, chief of neurological infections and global neurology at the Yale School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study. But, she cautioned: “To make a conclusion that this has some long-term clinical implications for the patients I think is a stretch. We don’t want to scare the public and have them think, ‘Oh, this is proof that everyone’s going to have brain damage and not be able to function.’” The study involved 785 participants in UK Biobank, a repository of medical and other data from about half a million people in Britain. The participants each underwent two brain scans roughly three years apart, plus some basic cognitive testing. In between their two scans, 401 participants tested positive for the coronavirus, all infected between March 2020 and April 2021. The other 384 participants formed a control group because they had not been infected with the coronavirus and had similar characteristics to the infected patients in areas like age, sex, medical history and socioeconomic status. With normal aging, people lose a tiny fraction of gray matter each year. For example, in regions related to memory, the typical annual loss is between 0.2 percent and 0.3 percent, the researchers said. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste); Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28237 - Posted: 03.11.2022

Dominique Potvin When we attached tiny, backpack-like tracking devices to five Australian magpies for a pilot study, we didn’t expect to discover an entirely new social behaviour rarely seen in birds. Our goal was to learn more about the movement and social dynamics of these highly intelligent birds, and to test these new, durable and reusable devices. Instead, the birds outsmarted us. As our new research paper explains, the magpies began showing evidence of cooperative “rescue” behaviour to help each other remove the tracker. While we’re familiar with magpies being intelligent and social creatures, this was the first instance we knew of that showed this type of seemingly altruistic behaviour: helping another member of the group without getting an immediate, tangible reward. As academic scientists, we’re accustomed to experiments going awry in one way or another. Expired substances, failing equipment, contaminated samples, an unplanned power outage—these can all set back months (or even years) of carefully planned research. For those of us who study animals, and especially behaviour, unpredictability is part of the job description. This is the reason we often require pilot studies. Our pilot study was one of the first of its kind—most trackers are too big to fit on medium to small birds, and those that do tend to have very limited capacity for data storage or battery life. They also tend to be single-use only. A novel aspect of our research was the design of the harness that held the tracker. We devised a method that didn’t require birds to be caught again to download precious data or reuse the small devices. © 1986–2022 The Scientist.

Keyword: Evolution; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28218 - Posted: 02.26.2022

By Linda Searing Health-care workers and others who are exposed on the job to formaldehyde, even in low amounts, face a 17 percent increased likelihood of developing memory and thinking problems later on, according to research published in the journal Neurology. The finding adds cognitive impairment to already established health risks associated with formaldehyde. As the level of exposure increases, those risks range from eye, nose and throat irritation to skin rashes and breathing problems. At high levels of exposure, the chemical is considered a carcinogen, linked to leukemia and some types of nose and throat cancer. A strong-smelling gas, formaldehyde is used in making building materials and plastics and often as a component of disinfectants and preservatives. Materials containing formaldehyde can release it into the air as a vapor that can be inhaled, which is the main way people are exposed to it. The study, which included data from more than 75,000 people, found that the majority of those exposed were workers in the health-care sector — nurses, caregivers, medical technicians and those working in labs and funeral homes. Other study participants who had been exposed to formaldehyde included workers in textile, chemistry and metal industries; carpenters; and cleaners. At highest risk were those whose work had exposed them to formaldehyde for 22 years or more, giving them a 21 percent higher risk for cognitive problems than those who had not been exposed. Using a battery of standardized tests, the researchers found that formaldehyde exposure created higher risk for every type of cognitive function that was tested, including memory, attention, reasoning, word recall and other thinking skills.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Neurotoxins
Link ID: 28203 - Posted: 02.16.2022

Jordana Cepelewicz We often think of memory as a rerun of the past — a mental duplication of events and sensations that we’ve experienced. In the brain, that would be akin to the same patterns of neural activity getting expressed again: Remembering a person’s face, for instance, might activate the same neural patterns as the ones for seeing their face. And indeed, in some memory processes, something like this does occur. But in recent years, researchers have repeatedly found subtle yet significant differences between visual and memory representations, with the latter showing up consistently in slightly different locations in the brain. Scientists weren’t sure what to make of this transformation: What function did it serve, and what did it mean for the nature of memory itself? Now, they may have found an answer — in research focused on language rather than memory. A team of neuroscientists created a semantic map of the brain that showed in remarkable detail which areas of the cortex respond to linguistic information about a wide range of concepts, from faces and places to social relationships and weather phenomena. When they compared that map to one they made showing where the brain represents categories of visual information, they observed meaningful differences between the patterns. And those differences looked exactly like the ones reported in the studies on vision and memory. The finding, published last October in Nature Neuroscience, suggests that in many cases, a memory isn’t a facsimile of past perceptions that gets replayed. Instead, it is more like a reconstruction of the original experience, based on its semantic content. All Rights Reserved © 2022

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Language
Link ID: 28202 - Posted: 02.12.2022

By Laura Sanders A tussle with COVID-19 can leave people’s brains fuzzy. SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19, doesn’t usually make it into the brain directly. But the immune system’s response to even mild cases can affect the brain, new preliminary studies suggest. These reverberating effects may lead to fatigue, trouble thinking, difficulty remembering and even pain, months after the infection is gone. It’s not a new idea. Immune systems gone awry have been implicated in cognitive problems that come with other viral infections such as HIV and influenza, with disorders such as myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, or ME/CFS, and even from the damaging effects of chemotherapy. What’s different with COVID-19 is the scope of the problem. Millions of people have been infected, says neurologist Avindra Nath of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. “We are now faced with a public health crisis,” he says. Sign up for e-mail updates on the latest coronavirus news and research To figure out ways to treat people for the fuzzy thinking, headaches and fatigue that hang around after a bout with COVID-19, scientists are racing to figure out what’s causing these symptoms (SN: 4/27/21). Cognitive neurologist Joanna Hellmuth at the University of California, San Francisco had a head start. As someone who had studied the effects of HIV on the brain, she quickly noted similarities in the neurological symptoms of HIV and COVID-19. The infections paint “the same exact clinical picture,” she says. HIV-related cognitive symptoms have been linked to immune activation in the body, including the brain. “Maybe the same thing is happening in COVID,” Hellmuth says. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Keyword: Neuroimmunology; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28189 - Posted: 02.05.2022

Anastasia Brodovskaya Jaideep Kapur Epilepsy is a disease marked by recurrent seizures, or sudden periods of abnormal, excessive or synchronous neuronal activity in the brain. One in 26 people in the U.S. will develop epilepsy at some point in their life. While people with mild seizures might experience a brief loss of awareness and muscle twitches, more severe seizures could last for several minutes and lead to injury from falling down and losing control of their limbs. Many people with epilepsy also experience memory problems. Patients often experience retrograde amnesia, where they cannot remember what happened immediately before their seizure. Electroconvulsive therapy, a form of treatment for major depression that intentionally triggers small seizures, can also cause retrograde amnesia. So why do seizures often cause memory loss? We are neurology researchers who study the mechanisms behind how seizures affect the brain. Our brain-mapping study found that seizures affect the same circuits of the brain responsible for memory formation. Understand new developments in science, health and technology, each week One of the earliest descriptions of seizures was written on a Babylonian tablet over 3,000 years ago. Seizures can be caused by a number of factors, ranging from abnormalities in brain structure and genetic mutations to infections and autoimmune conditions. Often, the root cause of a seizure isn’t known. The most common type of epilepsy involves seizures that originate in the brain region located behind the ears, the temporal lobe. Some patients with temporal lobe epilepsy experience retrograde amnesia and are unable to recall events immediately before their seizure. © 2010–2022, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Epilepsy; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28187 - Posted: 02.05.2022