Chapter 5. The Sensorimotor System

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By Miryam Naddaf About one-third of people who suffer from migraines experience a phenomenon known as aura before the headache.Credit: Tunatura/Getty For one billion people worldwide, the symptoms can be debilitating: throbbing head pain, nausea, blurred vision and fatigue that can last for days. But how brain activity triggers these severest of headaches — migraines — has long puzzled scientists. A study1 in mice, published in Science on 4 July, now offers clues about the neurological events that spark migraines. It suggests that a brief brain ‘blackout’ — when neuronal activity shuts down — temporarily changes the content of the cerebrospinal fluid, the clear liquid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. This altered fluid, researchers suggest, travels through a previously unknown gap in anatomy to nerves in the skull where it activates pain and inflammatory receptors, causing headaches. “This work is a shift in how we think the headaches originate,” says Gregory Dussor, a neuroscientist at the University of Texas at Dallas in Richardson. “A headache might just be a general warning sign for lots of things happening inside the brain that aren’t normal.” “Migraine is actually protective in that way. The pain is protective because it’s telling the person to rest and recover and sleep,” says study co-author Maiken Nedergaard, a neuroscientist at the University of Copenhagen. The brain itself has no pain receptors; the sensation of headaches comes from areas outside the brain that are in the peripheral nervous system. But how the brain, which is not directly linked to the peripheral nervous system, triggers nerves to cause headaches is poorly understood, making them difficult to treat. © 2024 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 29388 - Posted: 07.11.2024

Tijl Grootswagers Genevieve L Quek Manuel Varlet You are standing in the cereal aisle, weighing up whether to buy a healthy bran or a sugary chocolate-flavoured alternative. Your hand hovers momentarily before you make the final grab. But did you know that during those last few seconds, while you’re reaching out, your brain is still evaluating the pros and cons – influenced by everything from your last meal, the health star rating, the catchy jingle in the ad, and the colours of the letters on the box? Our recently published research shows our brains do not just think first and then act. Even while you are reaching for a product on a supermarket shelf, your brain is still evaluating whether you are making the right choice. Read news coverage based on evidence, not tweets Further, we found measuring hand movements offers an accurate window into the brain’s ongoing evaluation of the decision – you don’t have to hook people up to expensive brain scanners. What does this say about our decision-making? And what does it mean for consumers and the people marketing to them? There has been debate within neuroscience on whether a person’s movements to enact a decision can be modified once the brain’s “motor plan” has been made. Our research revealed not only that movements can be changed after a decision – “in flight” – but also the changes matched incoming information from a person’s senses. To study how our decisions unfold over time, we tracked people’s hand movements as they reached for different options shown in pictures – for example, in response to the question “is this picture a face or an object?” Put simply, reaching movements are shaped by ongoing thinking and decision-making. © 2010–2024, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 29387 - Posted: 07.11.2024

By Rodrigo Pérez Ortega It starts with blind spots, flashing lights, and blurry vision—a warning of what’s to come. About an hour later, the dreadful headache kicks in. This pairing, a shining visual experience called an aura and then a headache, happens in about one-third of people who live with migraine. But researchers haven’t been able to figure out exactly how the two are linked at the molecular level. Now, a new study in mice, published today in Science, establishes a direct mechanism: molecules traveling in the fluid that bathes the brain. The finding could lead to new targets for much-needed migraine treatments. “It’s exciting,” says Rami Burstein, a translational neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School who was not involved in the new study. “It takes a very large step into understanding how something that happened in the brain can alter sensation or perception,” he says. It may also explain why the pain of migraine is experienced only in the head, he adds. Migraine, a debilitating neurological disorder, affects about 148 million people worldwide. Recently developed medications can help reduce headaches but are not effective for everyone. Although exact causes remain elusive, research has shown migraines most likely start with a pathological burst of neural activity. During an aura before a migraine, researchers have observed a seizurelike phenomenon called cortical spreading depression (CSD), in which a wave of abnormal neural firing slowly travels throughout the brain’s outer layer, or cortex. But because the brain itself contains no pain-sensing neurons, signals from the brain would have to somehow reach the peripheral nervous system—the nerves that communicate between the body parts and the brain—to cause a headache. In particular, they’d have to get to the two lumps of neurons below the brain called the trigeminal ganglia, which innervate the two sides of our face and head. Scientists knew that pain fibers from the trigeminal ganglion were nested in the meninges—the thin, delicate membranes that envelop and protect the brain.

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 29380 - Posted: 07.06.2024

By Miryam Naddaf Researchers have developed a four-dimensional model of spinal-cord injury in mice, which shows how nearly half a million cells in the spinal cord respond over time to injuries of varying severity. The model, known as a cell atlas, could help researchers to resolve outstanding questions and develop new treatments for people with spinal-cord injury (SCI). “If you know what every single cell on the spinal cord is doing in response to injury, you could use that knowledge to develop tailor-made and mechanism-based therapies,” says Mark Anderson, a neurobiologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Geneva, Switzerland, who worked on the atlas. “Things don’t need to be a shot in the dark.” Anderson and his colleagues used machine-learning algorithms to build the atlas by mapping data from RNA sequencing and other cell-biology techniques. They described the work in a Nature paper published today1 and have made the entire atlas available through an online platform. The atlas is a valuable resource for testing hypotheses about SCI, says Binhai Zheng, who studies spinal-cord regeneration at the University of California, San Diego. “There are a lot of hidden treasures.” The researchers examined sections of the spinal cord, sampled from 52 injured and uninjured mice at 1, 4, 7, 14, 30 and 60 days after injury. Their analysis involved 18 experimental SCI conditions, including different types of injury and levels of severity. They used RNA-sequencing tools to explore how 482,825 cells responded to injury over time. © 2024 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Brain imaging; Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 29368 - Posted: 06.26.2024

By Claire Yuan Men and women experience pain differently, and until now, scientists didn’t know why. New research says it may be in part due to differences in male and female nerve cells. Pain-sensing nerve cells from male and female animal tissues responded differently to the same sensitizing substances, researchers report June 3 in Brain. The results suggest that at the cellular level, pain is produced differently between the sexes. The results might allow researchers “to come up with drugs that would be specific to treat female patients or male patients,” says Katherine Martucci, a neuroscientist who studies chronic pain at Duke University School of Medicine and was not involved in the study. “There’s no debate about it. They’re seeing these differences in the cells.” Some types of chronic and acute pain appear more often in one sex, but it’s unclear why. For instance, about 50 million adults in the United States suffer from chronic pain conditions, many of which are more common in women (SN: 5/22/23). Similar disparities exist for acute conditions. Such differences prompted pain researcher Frank Porreca of the University of Arizona Health Sciences in Tucson and colleagues to study nerve cells called nociceptors, which can act like alarm sensors for the body. The cells’ pain sensors, found in skin, organs and elsewhere in the body, can detect potentially dangerous stimuli and send signals to the brain, which then interprets the information as pain. In some cases, the nerve cells can become more sensitive to outside stimulation, registering even gentle sensations — like a shirt rubbing sunburned skin — as pain. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2024.

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 29366 - Posted: 06.24.2024

By Sara Reardon Specific nerve cells on the penis and clitoris detect vibrations and then become activated, causing sexual behaviours such as erections, a study in mice has revealed1. The findings could lead to new treatments for conditions such as erectile dysfunction, or for restoring sexual function in people with lower-body paralysis. Krause corpuscles — nerve endings in tightly wrapped balls located just under the skin — were first discovered in human genitals more than 150 years ago. The structures are similar to touch-activated corpuscles found on people’s fingers and hands, which respond to vibrations as the skin moves across a textured surface. But there is little research into how the genital corpuscles work and how they are involved in sex, probably because the topic is sometimes considered taboo. “It’s been hard to get people to work on this because some people have a hard time talking about it,” says David Ginty, a sensory neurobiologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, who led the team that conducted the latest research. “But I don’t, because the biology is so interesting.” Ginty and other sensory biologists have long wanted to study these mysterious neuron balls. But activating and tracking specific neurons was nearly impossible until advanced molecular techniques emerged in the past 20 years. In a 19 June paper in Nature1, Ginty and his collaborators activated the Krause corpuscles in both male and female mice using various mechanical and electrical stimuli. The neurons fired in response to low-frequency vibrations in the range of 40–80 hertz. Ginty notes that these frequencies are generally used in many sex toys; humans, it seems, realized that this was the best way to stimulate Krause corpuscles before any official experiments were published. © 2024 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Pain & Touch
Link ID: 29365 - Posted: 06.24.2024

By Scott Sayare As a boy, Les Milne carried an air of triumph about him, and an air of sorrow. Les was a particularly promising and energetic young man, an all-Scottish swim champion, head boy at his academy in Dundee, a top student bound for medical school. But when he was young, his father died; his mother was institutionalized with a diagnosis of manic depression, and he and his younger brother were effectively left to fend for themselves. His high school girlfriend, Joy, was drawn to him as much by his sadness as his talents, by his yearning for her care. “We were very, very much in love,” Joy, now a flaxen-haired 72-year-old grandmother, told me recently. In a somewhat less conventional way, she also adored the way Les smelled, and this aroma of salt and musk, accented with a suggestion of leather from the carbolic soap he used at the pool, formed for her a lasting sense of who he was. “It was just him,” Joy said, a steadfast marker of his identity, no less distinctive than his face, his voice, his particular quality of mind. Listen to this article, read by Robert Petkoff Joy’s had always been an unusually sensitive nose, the inheritance, she believes, of her maternal line. Her grandmother was a “hyperosmic,” and she encouraged Joy, as a child, to make the most of her abilities, quizzing her on different varieties of rose, teaching her to distinguish the scent of the petals from the scent of the leaves from the scent of the pistils and stamens. Still, her grandmother did not think odor of any kind to be a polite topic of conversation, and however rich and enjoyable and dense with information the olfactory world might be, she urged her granddaughter to keep her experience of it to herself. Les only learned of Joy’s peculiar nose well after their relationship began, on a trip to the Scandinavian far north. Joy would not stop going on about the creamy odor of the tundra, or what she insisted was the aroma of the cold itself. Joy planned to go off to university in Paris or Rome. Faced with the prospect of tending to his mother alone, however, Les begged her to stay in Scotland. He trained as a doctor, she as a nurse; they married during his residency. He was soon the sort of capable young physician one might hope to meet, a practitioner of uncommon enthusiasm, and shortly after his 30th birthday, he was appointed consultant anesthesiologist at Macclesfield District General Hospital, outside Manchester, in England, the first in his graduating class to make consultant. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Parkinsons; Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 29363 - Posted: 06.15.2024

By Lauren Leffer Noland Arbaugh has a computer chip embedded in his skull and an electrode array in his brain. But Arbaugh, the first user of the Neuralink brain-computer interface, or BCI, says he wouldn’t know the hardware was there if he didn’t remember going through with the surgery. “If I had lost my memory, and I woke up, and you told me there was something implanted in my brain, then I probably wouldn’t believe you,” says the 30-year-old Arizona resident, who has been paralyzed below the middle of his neck since a 2016 swimming accident. “I have no sensation of it—no way of telling it’s there unless someone goes and physically pushes on it.” The Neuralink chip may be physically unobtrusive, but Arbaugh says it’s had a big impact on his life, allowing him to “reconnect with the world.” He underwent robotic surgery in January to receive the N1 Implant, also called “the Link,” in Neuralink’s first approved human trial. BCIs have existed for decades. But because billionaire technologist Elon Musk owns Neuralink, the company has received outsize attention. It’s brought renewed public interest to a technology that could significantly improve the life of those living with quadriplegia, such as Arbaugh, as well as people with other disabilities or neurodegenerative diseases. BCIs record electrical activity in the brain and translate those data into output actions, such as opening and closing a robotic hand or clicking a computer mouse. They vary in their design, level of invasiveness and the resolution of the information they capture. Some detect neurons’ electrical activity with entirely external electroencephalogram (EEG) arrays placed over a subject’s head. Others use electrodes placed on the brain’s surface to track neural activity. Then there are intracortical devices, which use electrodes implanted directly into brain tissue, to get as close as possible to the targeted neurons. Neuralink’s implant falls into this category. © 2024 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN,

Keyword: Robotics; Movement Disorders
Link ID: 29362 - Posted: 06.15.2024

By Erin Garcia de Jesús Chronic wasting disease has been spreading among deer in the United States, which has raised concerns that the fatal neurological illness might make the leap to people. But a recent study suggests that the disease has a tough path to take to get into humans. The culprit behind chronic wasting disease, or CWD, isn’t a virus or bacterium but a misfolded brain protein called a prion. A new study using miniature, lab-grown organs called organoids supports previous work, showing that CWD prions don’t infect human brain tissue. Brain organoids exposed to high doses of prions from white-tailed deer, mule deer and elk remained infection-free for the duration of the study, or 180 days, researchers report in the June 2024 Emerging Infectious Diseases. However, organoids exposed to human prions that cause a related condition, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, quickly became infected. The finding suggests that a substantial species barrier prevents CWD from making the jump from deer to humans. “This was a model that could really help tell us … whether or not it was a real risk,” says Bradley Groveman, a biologist at the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Mont. But brain organoids aren’t a perfect mimic of the real thing and may lack features that would make them susceptible to infection. And new prion strains can appear, perhaps including some that might help deer prions lock onto healthy brain proteins in humans. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2024.

Keyword: Prions
Link ID: 29355 - Posted: 06.11.2024

Leyland Cecco in Toronto A leading federal scientist in Canada has alleged he was barred from investigating a mystery brain illness in the province of New Brunswick and said he fears more than 200 people affected by the condition are experiencing unexplained neurological decline. The allegations, made in leaked emails to a colleague seen by the Guardian, have emerged two years after the eastern province closed its investigation into a possible “cluster” of cases. “All I will say is that my scientific opinion is that there is something real going on in [New Brunswick] that absolutely cannot be explained by the bias or personal agenda of an individual neurologist,” wrote Michael Coulthart, a prominent microbiologist. “A few cases might be best explained by the latter, but there are just too many (now over 200).” New Brunswick health officials warned in 2021 that more than 40 residents were suffering from a possible unknown neurological syndrome, with symptoms similar to those of the degenerative brain disorder Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Those symptoms were varied and dramatic: some patients started drooling and others felt as though bugs were crawling on their skin. A year later, however, an independent oversight committee created by the province determined that the group of patients had most likely been misdiagnosed and were suffering from known illnesses such as cancer and dementia. The committee and the New Brunswick government also cast doubt on the work of neurologist Alier Marrero, who was initially referred dozens of cases by baffled doctors in the region, and subsequently identified more cases. The doctor has since become a fierce advocate for patients he feels have been neglected by the province. © 2024 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Alzheimers; Depression
Link ID: 29342 - Posted: 06.04.2024

By Emily Underwood You’re driving somewhere, eyes on the road, when you start to feel a tingling sensation in your lower abdomen. That extra-large Coke you drank an hour ago has made its way through your kidneys into your bladder. “Time to pull over,” you think, scanning for an exit ramp. To most people, pulling into a highway rest stop is a profoundly mundane experience. But not to neuroscientist Rita Valentino, who has studied how the brain senses, interprets and acts on the bladder’s signals. She’s fascinated by the brain’s ability to take in sensations from the bladder, combine them with signals from outside of the body, like the sights and sounds of the road, then use that information to act — in this scenario, to find a safe, socially appropriate place to pee. “To me, it’s really an example of one of the beautiful things that the brain does,” she says. Scientists used to think that our bladders were ruled by a relatively straightforward reflex — an “on-off” switch between storing urine and letting it go. “Now we realize it’s much more complex than that,” says Valentino, now director of the division of neuroscience and behavior at the National Institute of Drug Abuse. An intricate network of brain regions that contribute to functions like decision-making, social interactions and awareness of our body’s internal state, also called interoception, participates in making the call. In addition to being mind-bogglingly complex, the system is also delicate. Scientists estimate, for example, that more than 1 in 10 adults have overactive bladder syndrome — a common constellation of symptoms that includes urinary urgency (the sensation of needing to pee even when the bladder isn’t full), nocturia (the need for frequent nightly bathroom visits) and incontinence. Although existing treatments can improve symptoms for some, they don’t work for many people, says Martin Michel, a pharmacologist at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, who researches therapies for bladder disorders. Developing better drugs has proven so challenging that all major pharmaceutical companies have abandoned the effort, he adds.

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 29337 - Posted: 06.02.2024

By Matthew Hutson ChatGPT and other AI tools are upending our digital lives, but our AI interactions are about to get physical. Humanoid robots trained with a particular type of AI to sense and react to their world could lend a hand in factories, space stations, nursing homes and beyond. Two recent papers in Science Robotics highlight how that type of AI — called reinforcement learning — could make such robots a reality. “We’ve seen really wonderful progress in AI in the digital world with tools like GPT,” says Ilija Radosavovic, a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley. “But I think that AI in the physical world has the potential to be even more transformational.” The state-of-the-art software that controls the movements of bipedal bots often uses what’s called model-based predictive control. It’s led to very sophisticated systems, such as the parkour-performing Atlas robot from Boston Dynamics. But these robot brains require a fair amount of human expertise to program, and they don’t adapt well to unfamiliar situations. Reinforcement learning, or RL, in which AI learns through trial and error to perform sequences of actions, may prove a better approach. “We wanted to see how far we can push reinforcement learning in real robots,” says Tuomas Haarnoja, a computer scientist at Google DeepMind and coauthor of one of the Science Robotics papers. Haarnoja and colleagues chose to develop software for a 20-inch-tall toy robot called OP3, made by the company Robotis. The team not only wanted to teach OP3 to walk but also to play one-on-one soccer. “Soccer is a nice environment to study general reinforcement learning,” says Guy Lever of Google DeepMind, a coauthor of the paper. It requires planning, agility, exploration, cooperation and competition. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2024.

Keyword: Robotics
Link ID: 29328 - Posted: 05.29.2024

By Christina Jewett Just four months ago, Noland Arbaugh had a circle of bone removed from his skull and hair-thin sensor tentacles slipped into his brain. A computer about the size of a small stack of quarters was placed on top and the hole was sealed. Paralyzed below the neck, Mr. Arbaugh is the first patient to take part in the clinical trial of humans testing Elon Musk’s Neuralink device, and his early progress was greeted with excitement. Working with engineers, Mr. Arbaugh, 30, trained computer programs to translate the firing of neurons in his brain into the act of moving a cursor up, down and around. His command of the cursor was soon so agile that he could challenge his stepfather at Mario Kart and play an empire-building video game late into the night. But as weeks passed, about 85 percent of the device’s tendrils slipped out of his brain. Neuralink’s staff had to retool the system to allow him to regain command of the cursor. Though he needed to learn a new method to click on something, he can still skate the cursor across the screen. Neuralink advised him against a surgery to replace the threads, he said, adding that the situation had stabilized. The setback became public earlier this month. And although the diminished activity was initially difficult and disappointing, Mr. Arbaugh said it had been worth it for Neuralink to move forward in a tech-medical field aimed at helping people regain their speech, sight or movement. “I just want to bring everyone along this journey with me,” he said. “I want to show everyone how amazing this is. And it’s just been so rewarding. So I’m really excited to keep going.” From a small desert town in Arizona, Mr. Arbaugh has emerged as an enthusiastic spokesman for Neuralink, one of at least five companies leveraging decades of academic research to engineer a device that can help restore function in people with disabilities or degenerative diseases. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Robotics
Link ID: 29320 - Posted: 05.23.2024

By Meghan Willcoxon In the summer of 1991, the neuroscientist Vittorio Gallese was studying how movement is represented in the brain when he noticed something odd. He and his research adviser, Giacomo Rizzolatti, at the University of Parma were tracking which neurons became active when monkeys interacted with certain objects. As the scientists had observed before, the same neurons fired when the monkeys either noticed the objects or picked them up. But then the neurons did something the researchers didn’t expect. Before the formal start of the experiment, Gallese grasped the objects to show them to a monkey. At that moment, the activity spiked in the same neurons that had fired when the monkey grasped the objects. It was the first time anyone had observed neurons encode information for both an action and another individual performing that action. Those neurons reminded the researchers of a mirror: Actions the monkeys observed were reflected in their brains through these peculiar motor cells. In 1992, Gallese and Rizzolatti first described the cells in the journal Experimental Brain Research and then in 1996 named them “mirror neurons” in Brain. The researchers knew they had found something interesting, but nothing could have prepared them for how the rest of the world would respond. Within 10 years of the discovery, the idea of a mirror neuron had become the rare neuroscience concept to capture the public imagination. From 2002 to 2009, scientists across disciplines joined science popularizers in sensationalizing these cells, attributing more properties to them to explain such complex human behaviors as empathy, altruism, learning, imitation, autism, and speech. Then, nearly as quickly as mirror neurons caught on, scientific doubts about their explanatory power crept in. Within a few years, these celebrity cells were filed away in the drawer of over-promised, under-delivered discoveries. © 2024 NautilusNext Inc.,

Keyword: Attention; Vision
Link ID: 29316 - Posted: 05.21.2024

Ian Sample Science editor A device that stimulates the spinal nerves with electrical pulses appears to boost how well people recover from major spinal cord injuries, doctors say. An international trial found that patients who had lost some or all use of their hands and arms after a spinal cord injury regained strength, control and sensation when the stimulation was applied during standard rehabilitation exercises. The improvements were small but were described by doctors and patients as life-changing because of the impact they had on the patients’ daily routines and quality of life. “It actually makes it easier for people to move, including people who have complete loss of movement in their hands and arms,” said Prof Chet Moritz, in the department of rehabilitation medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle. “The benefits accumulate gradually over time as we pair this spinal stimulation with intensive therapy of the hands and arms, such that there are benefits even when the stimulator is turned off.” Rather than being implanted, the Arc-Ex device is worn externally and uses electrodes that are placed on the skin near the section of the spinal cord responsible for controlling a particular movement or function. The researchers believe that electrical stimulation helps nerves that remain intact after the injury to send signals and ultimately partially restore some communication between the brain and paralysed body part. More than half of patients who suffer spinal cord injuries still have some intact nerves that cross the injury site. © 2024 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Robotics; Movement Disorders
Link ID: 29315 - Posted: 05.21.2024

By Kermit Pattison Since the Stone Age, hunters have brought down big game with spears, atlatls, and bows and arrows. Now, a new study reveals traditional societies around the globe also relied on another deadly but often-overlooked weapon: our legs. According to a report published today in Nature Human Behaviour, running down big game such as antelope, moose, and even kangaroos was far more widespread than previously recognized. Researchers documented nearly 400 cases of endurance pursuits—a technique in which prey are chased to exhaustion—by Indigenous peoples around the globe between the 16th and 21st centuries. And in some cases, they suggest, it can be more efficient than stealthy stalking. The findings bolster the idea that humans evolved to be hunting harriers, says Daniel Lieberman, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University. “Nobody else has come up with any other explanation for why humans evolved to run long distances,” says Lieberman, who adds that he’s impressed with the paper’s “depth of scholarship.” For decades, some anthropologists have argued that endurance running was among the first hunting techniques employed by early hominins in Africa. Advocates suggest subsequent millennia spent chasing down prey shaped many unique human features, including our springy arched feet, slow-twitch muscle fibers optimized for efficiency, heat-shedding bare skin, and prodigious ability to sweat. The “born to run” idea has become something of an origin story among many endurance athletes. But a pack of skeptics has dogged the theory. Critics cited the higher energetic costs of running over walking and noted that accounts of persistence hunting among modern foragers are rare. Yet hints of such pursuits kept popping up as Eugène Morin, an archaeologist at Trent University and co-author of the new paper, scoured the literature for a book he was writing on hunting among traditional societies. As he pored over early accounts by missionaries, travelers, and explorers, he repeatedly found descriptions of long-distance running and tracking. © 2024 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Evolution
Link ID: 29309 - Posted: 05.16.2024

By J. David Creswell Let’s start thinking differently about exercise. Decades of exercise science research show that when people or animals are given a new exercise routine, they get healthier. But when thinking about the benefits of exercise, most people hold a strong body bias; they focus on how regular exercise builds more lean body mass, helps increase their strength and balance, or improves heart health. Exercise matters even more for our brains, it turns out, in ways that are often overlooked. Here’s how we know. Animal exercise studies typically run rats for weeks on running wheels. The animals gleefully run every night, sprinting several miles over the course of an evening. There are wonderful health benefits in these studies of voluntary running—improved muscle tone and cardiovascular health, and many brain benefits too. But in some studies, there’s an additional experimental condition where some rats exercise with one crucial difference: it’s no longer voluntary exercise. Instead of a freestanding running wheel, rats run on a mechanized wheel that spins, forcing the animals to cover the same distance as the voluntary runners. What happens? When the rats are forced to exercise on a daily basis for several weeks, their bodies become more physically fit, but their brains suffer. Animals regularly forced to exercise have the equivalent of an anxiety disorder, behaving on new tasks in highly anxious and avoidant ways. These animals are more anxious not only compared to the voluntary runners, but also to animals that are not given an opportunity to exercise at all. Yes, forced exercise might be worse than no exercise at all. This work suggests something important about the health benefits of exercise: it is not just about making our muscles work, but what exercise does to our brains. When exercise gives us a sense of control, mastery and joy, our brains become less anxious. If we take that away, by forcing exercise, we can shift it from helpful to harmful. © 2024 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN,

Keyword: Stress; Depression
Link ID: 29284 - Posted: 05.02.2024

By Ingrid Wickelgren Ishmail Abdus-Saboor has been fascinated by the variety of the natural world since he was a boy growing up in Philadelphia. The nature walks he took under the tutelage of his third grade teacher, Mr. Moore, entranced him. “We got to interact and engage with wildlife and see animals in their native environment,” he recalled. Abdus-Saboor also brought a menagerie of creatures — cats, dogs, lizards, snakes and turtles — into his three-story home, and saved up his allowance to buy a magazine that taught him about turtles. When adults asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, “I said I wanted to become a scientist,” he said. “I always raised eyebrows.” Abdus-Saboor did not stray from that goal. Today, he is an associate professor of biological sciences at the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute at Columbia University, where he studies how the brain determines whether a touch to the skin is painful or pleasurable. “Although this question is fundamental to the human experience, it remains puzzling to explain with satisfying molecular detail,” he said. Because the skin is our largest sensory organ and a major conduit to our environment, it may hold clues for treating conditions from chronic pain to depression. To find those clues, Abdus-Saboor probes the nervous system at every juncture along the skin-to-brain axis. He does not focus on skin alone or home in on only the brain as many others do. “We merge these two worlds,” he said. That approach, he added, requires mastering two sets of techniques, reading two sets of literature and attending two sets of scientific meetings. “It gives us a unique leg up,” he said. It has led to a landmark paper published last year in Cell that laid out the entire neural circuit for pleasurable touch. © 2024 Simons Foundation.

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Emotions
Link ID: 29262 - Posted: 04.20.2024

By Joanne Silberner A hug, a handshake, a therapeutic massage. A newborn lying on a mother’s bare chest. Physical touch can buoy well-being and lessen pain, depression and anxiety, according to a large new analysis of published research released on Monday in the journal Nature Human Behaviour. Researchers from Germany and the Netherlands systematically reviewed years of research on touch, strokes, hugs and rubs. They also combined data from 137 studies, which included nearly 13,000 adults, children and infants. Each study compared individuals who had been physically touched in some way over the course of an experiment — or had touched an object like a fuzzy stuffed toy — to similar individuals who had not. For example, one study showed that daily 20-minute gentle massages for six weeks in older people with dementia decreased aggressiveness and reduced the levels of a stress marker in the blood. Another found that massages boosted the mood of breast cancer patients. One study even showed that healthy young adults who caressed a robotic baby seal were happier, and felt less pain from a mild heat stimulus, than those who read an article about an astronomer. Positive effects were particularly noticeable in premature babies, who “massively improve” with skin-to-skin contact, said Frédéric Michon, a researcher at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and one of the study’s authors. “There have been a lot of claims that touch is good, touch is healthy, touch is something that we all need,” said Rebecca Boehme, a neuroscientist at Linkoping University in Sweden, who reviewed the study for the journal. “But actually, nobody had looked at it from this broad, bird’s eye perspective.” © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Emotions
Link ID: 29252 - Posted: 04.11.2024

Matthew Farrer Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative movement disorder that progresses relentlessly. It gradually impairs a person’s ability to function until they ultimately become immobile and often develop dementia. In the U.S. alone, over a million people are afflicted with Parkinson’s, and new cases and overall numbers are steadily increasing. There is currently no treatment to slow or halt Parkinson’s disease. Available drugs don’t slow disease progression and can treat only certain symptoms. Medications that work early in the disease, however, such as Levodopa, generally become ineffective over the years, necessitating increased doses that can lead to disabling side effects. Without understanding the fundamental molecular cause of Parkinson’s, it’s improbable that researchers will be able to develop a medication to stop the disease from steadily worsening in patients. Many factors may contribute to the development of Parkinson’s, both environmental and genetic. Until recently, underlying genetic causes of the disease were unknown. Most cases of Parkinson’s aren’t inherited but sporadic, and early studies suggested a genetic basis was improbable. Nevertheless, everything in biology has a genetic foundation. As a geneticist and molecular neuroscientist, I have devoted my career to predicting and preventing Parkinson’s disease. In our newly published research, my team and I discovered a new genetic variant linked to Parkinson’s that sheds light on the evolutionary origin of multiple forms of familial parkinsonism, opening doors to better understand and treat the disease. In the mid-1990s, researchers started looking into whether genetic differences between people with or without Parkinson’s might identify specific genes or genetic variants that cause the disease. In general, I and other geneticists use two approaches to map the genetic blueprint of Parkinson’s: linkage analysis and association studies. © 2010–2024, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Parkinsons; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 29249 - Posted: 04.11.2024