Category Archives: brain

Cholesterol may affect brain functions – Study

Having lost three family members to Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, I was fascinated by this information from researchers in Berlin.

A study led by researchers at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM) and the Institute of Medical Physics and Biophysics at the Faculty of Medicine in Charité Hospital, Berlin, published in the journal Nature Communications, demonstrates that the cholesterol present in cell membranes can interfere with the function of an important brain membrane protein, through a previously unknown mode of interaction. Specifically, cholesterol is capable of regulating the activity of the adenosine receptor, by invading it and accessing the active site. This will allow new ways of interacting with these proteins to be devised that in the future could lead to drugs for treating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

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The adenosine receptor belongs to the GPCR family (G Protein-Coupled Receptors), a large group of proteins located in cell membranes, which are key in the transmission of signals and communication between cells. GPCRs are therefore involved in the majority of important physiological processes, including the interpretation of sensory stimuli such as vision, smell, and taste, the regulation of the immune and inflammatory system, and behavior modulation. Continue reading

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Learning with music can change brain structure – Study

As a guy who has had musical accompaniment to virtually everything he ever did, I was pleased to learn how it can affect the brain positively. One of my happiest recent discoveries was the bluetooth speaker that connects to the water bottle on my bike.

Using musical cues to learn a physical task significantly develops an important part of the brain, according to a new study.

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People who practiced a basic movement task to music showed increased structural connectivity between the regions of the brain that process sound and control movement.

The findings focus on white matter pathways — the wiring that enables brain cells to communicate with each other.

The study could have positive implications for future research into rehabilitation for patients who have lost some degree of movement control.

Thirty right-handed volunteers were divided into two groups and charged with learning a new task involving sequences of finger movements with the non-dominant, left hand. One group learned the task with musical cues, the other group without music.

After four weeks of practice, both groups of volunteers performed equally well at learning the sequences, researchers at the University of Edinburgh found.

Using MRI scans, it was found that the music group showed a significant increase in structural connectivity in the white matter tract that links auditory and motor regions on the right side of the brain. The non-music group showed no change.

Researchers hope that future study with larger numbers of participants will examine whether music can help with special kinds of motor rehabilitation program, such as after a stroke.

The interdisciplinary project brought together researchers from the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Music in Human and Social Development, Clinical Research Imaging Centre, and Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, and from Clinical Neuropsychology, Leiden University, The Netherlands.

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Controlling Memory By Triggering Specific Brain Waves During Sleep – IBS

Have you ever tried to recall something just before going to sleep and then wake up with the memory fresh in your mind? While we absorb so much information during the day consciously or unconsciously, it is during shut eye that a lot of facts are dispatched to be filed away or fall into oblivion. A good quality sleep is the best way to feel mentally refreshed and memorize new information, but how is the brain working while we sleep? Could we improve such process to remember more, or maybe even use it to forget unwanted memories?

I would just like to add that my Page – How important is a good night’s sleep? includes further information on how the brain benefits from good sleep habits.

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Scientists at the Center for Cognition and Sociality, within the Institute for Basic Science (IBS), enhanced or reduced mouse memorization skills by modulating specific synchronized brain waves during deep sleep. This is the first study to show that manipulating sleep spindle oscillations at the right timing affects memory. The full description of the mouse experiments, conducted in collaboration with the University of Tüebingen, is published in the journal Neuron.

The research team concentrated on a non-REM deep sleep phase that generally happens throughout the night, in alternation with the REM phase. It is called slow-wave sleep and it seems to be involved with memory formation, rather than dreaming. Continue reading

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Chocolate may improve cognitive function within hours – Study

Here is some good news for chocolate lovers. Researchers have found that cocoa flavanols could boost cognitive function within just a few hours of consumption. Perhaps the best news is that elderly adults reaped the best benefits.

Additionally, researchers found that regular, long-term intake of cocoa flavanols may protect against cognitive decline.

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Writing in Medical News Today, Honor Whiteman reported flavanols are naturally occurring compounds found in various types of plants, with some of the highest levels found in the beans of the cocoa tree.

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Can Exercise Slow Cognitive Decline?

Experts in aging and Alzheimer’s disease are conducting a national clinical study to determine if exercise may be an effective non-drug intervention for maintaining cognitive fitness.

The Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center is the only site in Illinois, and one of only 15 sites across the United States leading the Exercise in Adults With Mild Memory Problems (EXERT) study, which is trying to determine if exercise can slow the progress of memory loss and cognitive impairment in older adults.

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Neuroscientists are collaborating with the YMCA to provide individualized, one-on-one exercise programs and personal training to study participants. Rush will be working with the McGaw YMCA in Evanston, Illinois, to provide 45-minute personal training sessions for one year.

Adults with memory issues may avoid being active when they need it most

“We want to see if a personalized program implemented in the community and prescribed by health care providers can be an effective therapy for people with memory issues,” said Dr. Neelum Aggarwal, associate professor of neurology and principal investigator of the EXERT study at Rush. Continue reading

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Sweet or savory? Research on how the brain makes preference-based decisions

Some like it hot, but most folks choose sweet or savory ahead of it.

Researchers have found a direct window into the brain systems involved in making every day decisions based on preference.

The study, led by a team of neuroscientists at the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, and published in Nature Communications, offers crucial insight into the neural mechanisms underlying our decision-making process, opening up new avenues for the investigation of preference-based choices in humans.

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Whether we decide to opt for a piece of apple or a piece of cake is, for example, a preference-based decision. How our brains arrive at such decisions – as well as choices that rely on our subjective valuation of different alternatives – is currently a popular research topic. Continue reading

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Dining hall intervention helped students’ choices

As I have written in some of my blog posts on the brain. It is our frontal lobes that separate us from the rest of the creatures on this earth. That’s where our conscience resides and our decision-making takes place – our impulse control. It is a fact that the frontal lobes are the last to develop, often times this part of the brain is not developed until the individual reaches age 25. Personally, I found this fact to be an excellent explanation of why I made some of the really dangerous choices I did as a teen. It is well to keep this slow development fact in mind when thinking about freshmen in college living away from home for the first time in their lives.

As students transition from high school to college, they enter a critical period for weight gain. Although eating in a buffet-style dining hall offers freedom and flexibility in food choice, many students cite the abundance of food available as a cause for weight gain. As most college students’ diets are low in fruits and vegetables and high in calories, sugar, fat, and sodium, researchers from the University of Toronto and Memorial University of Newfoundland created a cross-sectional study to examine whether messaging encouraging fruit, vegetable, and water intake could influence the habits of university students.

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“Our labeling, focused on beverages and fruits and vegetables, may have been useful to decrease students’ consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and increase consumption of , fruits, and vegetables,” said lead author Mary Scourboutakos, PhD, post-doctoral researcher at the University of Toronto. Continue reading

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Exercise can boost your memory and thinking skills – Harvard

Moderate-intensity exercise can help improve your thinking and memory in just six months.

Happy days! More positive information on the benefits to the brain garnered from physical exercise! This time from Harvard Medical School.

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You probably already know that exercising is necessary to preserve muscle strength, keep your heart strong, maintain a healthy body weight, and stave off chronic diseases such as diabetes. But exercise can also help boost your thinking skills. “There’s a lot of science behind this,” says Dr. Scott McGinnis, an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School. Continue reading

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Brain Detects Disease in Others Even Before it Breaks Out

Because my family history includes both Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, I am fascinated by every aspect of the brain and its functions. The following is from Neuroscience News.

The human brain is much better than previously thought at discovering and avoiding disease, a new study led by researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden reports. Our sense of vision and smell alone are enough to make us aware that someone has a disease even before it breaks out. And not only aware – we also act upon the information and avoid sick people. The study is published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

By injecting harmless sections of bacteria, the researchers activated the immune response in participants, who developed the classic symptoms of disease – tiredness, pain and fever – for a few hours, during which time smell samples were taken from them and they were photographed and filmed. The injected substance then disappeared from their bodies and with it the symptoms. NeuroscienceNews.com image is for illustrative purposes only.

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Good every day habits to keep your memory in good shape – Harvard

As a senior citizen, I am aware of the aging process going on in both my body and my brain. I exercise to help preserve both. Here are some super suggestions from Harvard HEALTHbeat on bolstering the memory aspect of your brain.

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Your daily habits and lifestyle — what you eat and drink, whether you exercise, how stressed you are, and more — affect your mental health every bit as much as your physical health. A growing body of research indicates that regular exercise and a healthful diet can help protect your memory from aging-related decline. Continue reading

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Active Gaming Good For Brain Health and Memory – Study

Video games which involve physical activity significantly boost our brain health as we get older, according to new research led by University of Manchester experts.

Study authors Dr Emma Stanmore and Joseph Firth say systems that use physical activity for gaming such as Wii, and Xbox Kinect can boost brain functioning in people with neurological impairment, as well as keeping our minds healthy and active as we age.

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In the first ever analysis of all published evidence, the researchers aggregated data from 17 clinical trials examining the effects of active gaming on cognitive functioning across 926 people. Continue reading

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DARPA Funds Brain-Stimulation Research to Speed Learning

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency  (DARPA) is working with seven U.S. universities and elements of the Air Force and Army on research that seeks to stimulate the brain in a non-invasive way to speed up learning.

DARPA announced the Targeted Neuroplasticity Training, or TNT, program last March, and work now has begun on the effort to discover the safest and most effective ways to activate a natural process called “synaptic plasticity.”

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Plasticity is the brain’s ability to strengthen or weaken its neural connections to adapt to changes in the environment. For TNT Program Manager Dr. Doug Weber, such plasticity is about learning.

“We’re talking about neural plasticity, or how the neurons, which are the working units in the brain, how their function changes over time as we train on new skills,” he said during a recent interview with Department of Defense News.

Targeted Neuroplasticity Training

TNT research focuses on a specific kind of learning called cognitive skills training. People use cognitive skills to do things like pay attention, process information, do several things at once, detect and understand patterns, remember instructions, organize information and much more. Continue reading

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Exercise sharpens the mind in over-50s – Study

Eat less; move more; live longer is the mantra of this blog. Of course the most important element in living longer is having  a fully functioning brain. The BBC just filed a wonderful story supporting that outcome.

Doing moderate exercise several times a week is the best way to keep the mind sharp if you’re over 50, research suggests.

Thinking and memory skills were most improved when people exercised the heart and muscles on a regular basis, a review of 39 studies found.

This remained true in those who already showed signs of cognitive decline.

Taking up exercise at any age was worthwhile for the mind and body, the Australian researchers said.

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Exercises such as T’ai Chi were recommended for people over the age of 50 who couldn’t manage other more challenging forms of exercise, the study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine said.

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Genes Associated With Resilience Against Brain Pathology Identified

Having had three family members who suffered from some form of dementia I am highly motivated to find out all I can about this scourge that devastates mostly seniors. The following is from the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center.
Genes help cognition withstand damage in brain from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s

The pathologies (damage) in the brain that stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological conditions cause in older adults only partially explain the memory loss, reduced reasoning ability and other cognitive impairments that result from these conditions. Little is known about why the effects of brain pathology vary between people who develop it.

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Now researchers have discovered two genes, known as UNC5C and ENC1, that are associated with aging individuals having better memory and brain function than would be expected, given the amount of pathologies that accumulated in their brains. They reported their findings in an article published today in the journal PLOS Medicine. Continue reading

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Brain’s Power to Adapt Offers Short-Term Gains, Long-Term Strains

There is not necessarily fresh ground broken here, but I think seeing details on how the brain functions can only be helpful. The most important idea for me is one I had going in, namely, you only have one brain so take care of it.

Like air-traffic controllers scrambling to reconnect flights when a major hub goes down, the brain has a remarkable ability to rewire itself after suffering an injury. However, maintaining these new connections between brain regions can strain the brain’s resources, which can lead to serious problems later, including Alzheimer’s Disease, according to researchers.

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After a head injury, the brain can show enhanced connectivity by using alternative routes between two previously connected regions of the brain that need to communicate, as well as make stronger connections, said Frank G. Hillary, associate professor of psychology, Penn State. These new connections between damaged areas are often referred to as hyperconnections, he added. Continue reading

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Healthy living = a healthy brain as you age – Mayo Clinic

Eat less; move more; live longer is the mantra of this blog. Seems that a healthy lifestyle increases the chances of a healthy brain as we age, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle can protect the brain against several risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, Mayo Clinic research shows. Controlling blood pressure and cholesterol and avoiding obesity, smoking and diabetes are among the steps that can help preserve brain health, according to the study, published in JAMA Neurology.

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Neurologists believe two aspects make up Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Amyloid deposits: Toxic proteins that build up plaques on the brain.
  • Neurodegeneration: Loss of structure and function of neurons in the brain.

The Mayo research examined whether the risk factors and protective steps against each differ. Continue reading

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