Category Archives: brain function

Insights into Newly Characterized Form of Dementia

Working with their colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, researchers at the University of Kentucky have found that they can differentiate between sub-types of dementia inducing brain disease.

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“For the first time we created criteria that could differentiate between frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and a common Alzheimer’s ‘mimic’ called LATE disease,” said Dr. Peter Nelson of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky. He says they validated the criteria rigorously. The study was recently published in BRAIN: A Journal of Neurology. The first author of the paper was John L. Robinson from the University of Pennsylvania and the corresponding author was Nelson.

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Brain waves used to predict future pain sensitivity

The living brain is constantly producing regular rhythmic patterns of activity, which can be compared to musical notes. Scientists at the University of Birmingham in the UK, and the University of Maryland School of Dentistry in the U.S., have successfully demonstrated that one particularly prevalent pattern of brain activity, called alpha waves, strongly relates to the body’s susceptibility or resilience to pain.

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Alpha waves oscillate between 8-14 Hz, with the peak frequency varying across individuals. The researchers demonstrated how a measurement of an individual’s alpha wave frequency can be used as a reliable pain indicator.

The study, led by graduate student Andrew Furman and published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, suggests that these alpha waves could be used to help clinicians understand how susceptible a patient to experience severe pain post-surgery.

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Schooling critical for cognitive health throughout life

Investing time in education in childhood and early adulthood expands career opportunities and provides progressively higher salaries. It also conveys certain benefits to health and longevity.

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A new analysis published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest (PSPI), however, reveals that even though a more extensive formal education forestalls the more obvious signs of age-related cognitive deficits, it does not lessen the rate of aging-related cognitive declines. Instead, people who have gone further in school attain, on average, a higher level of cognitive function in early and middle adult adulthood, so the initial effects of cognitive aging are initially less obvious and the most severe impairments manifest later than they otherwise would have.

“The total amount of formal education that people receive is related to their average levels of cognitive functioning throughout adulthood,” said Elliot M. Tucker-Drob, a researcher with the University of Texas, Austin, and coauthor on the paper. “However, it is not appreciably related to their rates of aging-related cognitive declines.” Continue reading

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Lutein for the Eyes (and the Brain) – Tufts

Must confess that before encountering this item on Lutein, in the Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter, I was ignorant of it.

Lutein is just one of the more than 600 phytochemicals in the carotenoid family. These compounds are pigments that give plants their orange, yellow, and red hues, but they are more than just good looking: carotenoids, including lutein, have antioxidant and other health-promoting properties. “What makes lutein unique among the carotenoids is that it is selectively taken up into the eye and the brain,” says Elizabeth Johnson, a former scientist with the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.

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Eye Health: Lutein is not considered an essential nutrient; there is no evidence you will die without it. But as Americans are living longer, they are experiencing more age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts, the two major causes of visual impairment in the U.S. It is much better to prevent rather than treat these diseases, and research on lutein demonstrates that diet could help. “The eye is very vulnerable to oxidative stress because it is constantly bombarded by the sun’s rays,” says Johnson. “Lutein and its isomer zeaxanthin are concentrated in the lens of the eye and the macula of the retina, where their antioxidant effects may help to prevent damage.” Continue reading

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Memory loss reversed or abated in those with cognitive decline

Cognitive decline is a major concern of the aging population. Already, Alzheimer’s disease affects approximately 5.4 million Americans and 30 million people globally. Without effective prevention and treatment, the prospects for the future are bleak. By 2050, it is estimated that 160 million people globally will have the disease, including 13 million Americans, leading to potential bankruptcy of the Medicare system. Unlike several other chronic illnesses, Alzheimer’s disease is on the rise–recent estimates suggest that Alzheimer’s disease has become the third leading cause of death in the United States behind cardiovascular disease and cancer. Since its first description over 100 years ago, Alzheimer’s disease has been without effective treatment.

While researchers continue to seek out a cure, it is becoming clear that there are effective treatment options. More and more research supports the conclusion that Alzheimer’s disease is not a disease of only Beta Amyloid plaques and Tao tangles but a complex and systemic disease. In this study of patients with varying levels of cognitive decline, it is demonstrated how a precision and personalized approach results in either stabilization or improvement in memory.

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Affirmativ Health sought to determine whether a comprehensive and personalized program, designed to mitigate risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease could improve cognitive and metabolic function in individuals experiencing cognitive decline. Findings provided evidence that this approach can improve risk factor scores and stabilize cognitive function.

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Regular physical activity to enhance cognition in children who need it most

A common school-age stereotype is that smart kids are unathletic. However, as a recent study lead by Associate Professor Keita Kamijo at the University of Tsukuba and Assistant Professor Toru Ishihara at Kobe University shows that physical activity is linked to better cognitive ability, which is in turn related to academic performance in school.

Understanding the effects of physical activity on cognition has been difficult for several reasons. “Previous studies looked at the issue too broadly,” explains Professor Kamijo, “When we broke down the data, we were able to see that physical activity helps children the most if they start out with poor executive function.”

Relationship between baseline performance and pre–post changes in cognitive performance, illustrating the group × baseline performance interaction.

Executive functions refer to three types of cognitive skills. The first is the ability to suppress impulses and inhibit reflex-like behaviors or habits. To assess this ability, children were asked to indicate the color in which words like “red” and “blue” were displayed on a computer screen. This is easy when the words and colors match (“red” displayed in red font), but often requires inhibition of a reflex response when they don’t (“red” displayed in blue font). The second skill is the ability to hold information in working memory and process it. This was evaluated by testing how well children could remember strings of letters that vary in length. The third cognitive skill is mental flexibility. This was measured by asking children to frequently switch the rules for categorizing colored circles and squares from shape-based to color-based.

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Scientists study the link between the gut and Alzheimer’s disease

Do you know that feeling you get in your gut? It turns out your gut may really be trying to tell you something.  Our microbiome – the 100 trillion bacteria and organisms living in our gut – appears to have a profound influence on our health and risk of disease. And early scientific studies show there may be a link between the microbiome and the brain that could impact the risk of Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases.

The microbiome is a collection of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live mostly in our intestinal system. They play an important role in digestion and the production of certain vitamins, and they support our immune system. Researchers around the world study the gut microbiome, especially those bacteria unique to individuals, to learn more about their influence on our overall health.

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Aerobics a smart workout for your brain at any age

It’s never too late to lace up some sneakers and work up a sweat for brain health, according to a study published in the May 13, 2020, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The study suggests older adults, even couch potatoes, may perform better on certain thinking and memory tests after just six months of aerobic exercise.

“As we all find out eventually, we lose a bit mentally and physically as we age. But even if you start an exercise program later in life, the benefit to your brain may be immense,” said study author Marc J. Poulin, Ph.D., D.Phil., from the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. “Sure, aerobic exercise gets blood moving through your body. As our study found, it may also get blood moving to your brain, particularly in areas responsible for verbal fluency and executive functions. Our finding may be important, especially for older adults at risk for Alzheimer’s and other dementias and brain disease.”

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Genes, cardiovascular health factor into dementia risk

Genes and cardiovascular health each contribute in an additive way to a person’s risk of dementia, U.S. researchers including Sudha Seshadri, MD, and Claudia Satizabal, PhD, of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UT Health San Antonio) reported July 20 in the journal Neurology.

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The study was conducted in 1,211 participants in the Framingham Heart Study and involved collaborators from Boston University.

Participants with a high genetic risk score based on common genetic variants, including having an allele called apolipoprotein E (APOE) ε4, were at a 2.6-fold higher risk of developing dementia than subjects who had a low risk score and did not carry the APOE ε4 allele.

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How Diabetes and Obesity Affect the Brain

With more than 30 million Americans diagnosed with diabetes, and another 87 million diagnosed with obesity, both conditions have become national epidemics. 

The two diseases cause a number of complications, including neuropathy, which causes damage to the peripheral nerves. Neuropathy is characterized by numbness or tingling and can sometimes be accompanied by pain. 

Brian Callaghan, M.D., the Fovette E. Dush associate professor of neurology, has sounded an alarm through his recent clinical research, which has demonstrated that, in addition to peripheral nerve damagediabetes and obesity can also cause cognitive dysfunction, effecting thinking, reasoning or memory. 

Here, Callaghan discusses his latest work and ways to identify and treat the condition:

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Center for BrainHealth advances understanding of brain connectivity in cannabis users

Researchers at Center for BrainHealth®, part of The University of Texas at Dallas, recently examined underlying brain networks in long-term cannabis users to identify patterns of brain connectivity when the users crave or have a desire to consume cannabis. While regional brain activation and static connectivity in response to cravings have been studied before, fluctuations in brain network connectivity had not yet been examined in cannabis users. The findings from this study will help support the development of better treatment strategies for cannabis dependence.

The study was published in the journal of Human Brain Mapping (May 2020) by researchers Francesca Filbey, PhD, professor and director of cognitive neuroscience research of addictive disorders at Center for BrainHealth, Hye Bin Yoo, PhD and Blake Edward Moya.

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Seniors share fewer memories as they tack on years

By the time people reach a certain age, they’ve accumulated enough life experience to have plenty of stories to tell about life “back in their day.”

However, a new study suggests that the older a person is, the less likely they are to share memories of their past experiences. And when they do share memories, they don’t describe them in as much detail as younger people do.

The results of the study, conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona and published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, echo previous findings from lab-based research suggesting that memory sharing declines with age.

The UArizona study came to the conclusion in a new way: by “eavesdropping” on older adults’ conversations “in the wild.”

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Our ability to focus may falter after eating one meal high in saturated fat

Fatty food may feel like a friend during these troubled times, but new research suggests that eating just one meal high in saturated fat can hinder our ability to concentrate — not great news for people whose diets have gone south while they’re working at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study compared how 51 women performed on a test of their attention after they ate either a meal high in saturated fat or the same meal made with sunflower oil, which is high in unsaturated fat.

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‘Where are my keys?’ and other memory-based choices probed in the brain

Most of us know that feeling of trying to retrieve a memory that does not come right away. You might be watching a romantic comedy featuring that famous character actor who always plays the best friend and find yourself unable to recall her name (it’s Judy Greer). While memory retrieval has been the subject of countless animal studies and other neuroimaging work in humans, exactly how the process works — and how we make decisions based on memories — has remained unclear.

In a new study published in the June 26 issue of the journal Science, a collaborative team of neuroscientists from Caltech and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles has identified different sets of individual neurons responsible for memory-based decision-making, a hallmark of the human brain’s flexibility.

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Hunting in savanna-like landscapes may have poured jet fuel on brain evolution – Study

Ever wonder how land animals like humans evolved to become smarter than their aquatic ancestors? You can thank the ground you walk on.

Northwestern University researchers recently discovered that complex landscapes — dotted with trees, bushes, boulders and knolls — might have helped land-dwelling animals evolve higher intelligence than their aquatic ancestors.

Compared to the vast emptiness of open water, land is rife with obstacles and occlusions. By providing prey with spaces to hide and predators with cover for sneak attacks, the habitats possible on land may have helped give rise to planning strategies — rather than those based on habit — for many of those animals.

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Antibody designed to recognize pathogens of Alzheimer’s disease

Researchers have found a way to design an antibody that can identify the toxic particles that destroy healthy brain cells – a potential advance in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

Their method is able to recognize these toxic particles, known as amyloid-beta oligomers, which are the hallmark of the disease, leading to hope that new diagnostic methods can be developed for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

The team, from the University of Cambridge, University College London and Lund University, designed an antibody which is highly accurate at detecting toxic oligomers and quantifying their numbers. Their results are reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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