Brain

New Research Reveals How Type 2 Diabetes Affects the Brain

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We know what happens to the bodies of people suffering from type 2 diabetes. Your cells cease to respond to the hormone insulin, which is tasked with carrying sugar out of your bloodstream. Your blood sugar levels rise, which causes your pancreas to produce more and more insulin—over time a futile effort. Your pancreas eventually becomes exhausted; your blood sugar remains permanently elevated. The cascade of deleterious health effects ensues, resulting in, if untreated, death.

Sugar is first to mind when contemplating this disease these days, alongside the fact that type 2 diabetes is an avoidable disease. In the three decades following 1975 worldwide rates increased sevenfold. Yet it is not only sugar doing the damage. The accumulation of visceral fat and lack of exercise are also implicated in the onset of diabetes. Over time your chances of heart disease, blindness, and kidney failure increase.

Brain Health Tips from a Nobel Prize-Winning Scientist Eric Kandel

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Brain Health Tips from a Nobel Prize-Winning Scientist

Eric-kandel-hs

Eric Kandel

Professor of Brain Science, Columbia University

07:05

But what is going on in your brain during this process? We know the risk of dementia increases, but why? A new study in the journal Diabetologia addresses this question.

While obesity increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a team led by Dr. Sujung Yoon wanted to know how being overweight affects the brains of those with this form of diabetes. They specifically looked at how the cognitive functions of early-stage patients were affected.

Fifty overweight and fifty normal-weight sufferers between the age of 30…

Two brain areas team up to make mental maps

map London
map London

We don’t always use a map or app to get around. Often, we rely on our brains to navigate. A new study shows which parts of the brain will participate in this.

Following a map isn’t the only time people test their skills at navigation. We find routes all the time, whether it’s from one end of the house to another or to school and back. How does your brain get you to your destination? Two brain areas work together, a new study finds. One taps your memory to figure out where you are. Another uses that information to plan the path ahead. This discovery could help scientists one day design spaces for people who have difficulty finding their way.

The word “memory” makes people think of the past. But without it, no one could plan for the future. This is especially true in navigation, says Amir-Homayoun Javadi. He’s a neuroscientist — someone who studies the brain — at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England. He and his colleagues wanted to figure out how the brain finds different routes to a destination.

The scientists recruited 24 volunteers for a two-hour tour of Soho. It’s a neighborhood in London, England. Guides led the participants around, pointing out landmarks, book shops, cafes and other points of interest. These might help the volunteers later find their way. As they pointed things out, the guides also told the participants which direction they were facing — north, south, east or west.

One day later, the volunteers came to the lab and lay down inside a machine that does functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI. This brain scanner tracks the flow of blood in the brain. That blood carries oxygen. If a part of the brain is very active, it will need more oxygen. So more blood will move toward it. Scientists therefore use blood flow as a way to pinpoint which brain areas are working hard during a task.

As the participants lay in the machine, they saw 10 videos of the neighborhood they toured the day before. In five of them, they “traveled” without having to find their own way. For the rest, they had to use a computer to navigate…

Scientists Grow Working Human Brain Circuits

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have successfully grown the first-ever working 3D brain circuits in a petri dish. Writing in the journal Nature, they say the network of living cells will allow us to study how the human brain develops.

Scientists have been culturing brain cells in the lab for some time now. But previous projects have produced only flat sheets of cells and tissue, which can’t really come close to recreating the three-dimensional conditions inside our heads. The Stanford researchers were especially interested in the way brain cells in a developing fetus can join up together to create networks.

“We’ve never been able to recapitulate these human-brain developmental events in a dish before,” senior author Sergiu Pasca, MD said in a statement.

Studying real-life pregnant women and their fetuses can also be ethically and technically tricky, which means there’s still a…

Brain gains seen in elderly mice injected with human umbilical cord plasma

mouse hippocampus
YOUTHFUL GLOW In the hippocampus of a 1-month-old mouse, some nerve cells (red) produce the protein TIMP2 (green), which declines with age and may help keep the brain young. Blue indicates microglial cells.

Plasma taken from human umbilical cords can rejuvenate old mice’s brains and improve their memories, a new study suggests. The results, published online April 19 in Nature, may ultimately help scientists develop ways to stave off aging.

Earlier studies have turned up youthful effects of young mice’s blood on old mice (SN: 12/27/14, p. 21). Human plasma, the new results suggest, confers similar benefits, says study coauthor Joseph Castellano, a neuroscientist at Stanford University. The study also identifies a protein that’s particularly important for the youthful effects, a detail that “adds a nice piece to the puzzle,” Castellano says.

Identifying the exact components responsible for rejuvenating effects is important, says geroscientist Matt Kaeberlein of the University of Washington in Seattle. That knowledge will bring scientists closer to understanding how old tissues can be rejuvenated. And having the precise compounds in hand means that scientists might have an easier time translating therapies to people.

Kaeberlein cautions that the benefits were in mice, not people. Still, he says, “there is good reason to be optimistic that some of these approaches will have similar effects on health span in people.”

Like people, as mice age, brain performance begins to slip. Compared with younger generations, elderly mice perform worse on some tests of learning and memory, taking longer to remember the location of an escape route out of a maze, for instance. Researchers suspect that these deficits come from age-related trouble in the hippocampus, a brain structure important for learning and memory.

Every fourth day for two weeks, Castellano and colleagues injected old mice with human…

How Do Tics Develop in Tourette Syndrome?

Tourette syndrome is a brain dysfunction that leads to involuntary motor tics, such as sniffing, blinking, or clapping. In about 10 percent of cases, it also leads to the spontaneous utterance of taboo words or phrases, known as coprolalia. Until recently, these tics were believed to be the result of a dysfunction primarily in a brain structure known as the basal ganglia—a brain region associated with voluntary motor control, which primarily uses the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) to function. Recent studies of rat, monkey, and even human brains, however, has suggested that the tics stem from a more complex, system-level dysfunction that involves the cerebellum, the thalamus, and the cortex, which are all connected.

To better explore these brain regions and their influence on Tourette syndrome, Daniele Caligiore, a researcher at the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies of the Italian National Research Council in Italy, and his colleagues created a computer-simulated model of the neural activity of a brain with Tourette syndrome. The results are published in PLOS Computational Biology.

“The model presented here is a first step of a research agenda aiming at building virtual patients, allowing us to test potential therapies by using computer simulations,” Caligiore tells mental_floss. This method can be performed at low cost, without ethical implications, and, he hopes, help develop “more effective therapeutic protocols, and suggest promising therapeutic interventions.”

Using a…

Study links ADHD to five brain areas

classroom kids
classroom kids

Some kids have a hard time concentrating in class or turning in homework on time. Or they might talk at times when teachers have asked for quiet. Such behaviors may point to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. At least 7 in every 100 children may have this condition. Medicines and behavioral therapy — a type of talk therapy — can help treat the symptoms of this disorder. But scientists wanted to know what was behind it. Now, using brain imaging, they have just turned up five areas of the brain linked with symptoms of ADHD. At least two of those regions are smaller in kids with ADHD than in those without the disorder.

More than 80 researchers co-authored the new study. Martine Hoogman at Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, led this massive research team. Her group studied 1,713 people with ADHD and 1,529 others without it. That makes it the largest ADHD study to date. Its participants ranged in age from 4 to 63. They live in 23 places around the world.

The researchers scanned participants’ brains to probe what was going on inside their heads. They used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). It relies on magnetic fields and radio waves to picture tissues deep inside the body.

By comparing brain scans of people with and without ADHD, the researchers showed that the volumes of five brain areas were smaller in kids with ADHD. The size of the entire brain also was…

Why I Mute The World To Save My Brain

How often do you find yourself quietly on your own in this noisy world? Even when you’re at work, out of the 7 to 8 hours, how many of them are your own quiet hours?

A study at the University of California, Irvine, found that a typical office worker’s focused quiet time is only 11 minutes in-between interruptions on average,[1] and it actually takes 25 minutes to resume to work after any interruptions.

The noise and interruptions are badly affecting our work efficiency, and in fact, our life too.

Our brains will be overloaded and their normal functions can be affected with too much noise.

Psychologists examined the effects of the relocation of Munich’s airport on children’s health and cognition. They let the third- and fourth-grade students who lived and went to school near the old airport and near the new airport have tests on reading, memory, attention and hearing. Here’s the findings:[2]

The reading comprehension skills and long-term memory of children near the old airport improved once air traffic moved to the new airport, while the performance of children near the new airport declined.

Even though you may not be always working under excessive noise in your office, noise still interrupt the functioning of your brain to some extent.

Our brains get stimulated by sound, and too much noise can overload our brains with stimulating chemicals, affecting our comprehension skills…

The Science of Sleepwalking

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If a member of your family sleepwalks, or you do, most of the time it’s nothing so much as odd, and sometimes comical. For some though, it’s a different thing. Welsh-Australian artist Lee Hadwin is only creatively productive when he’s asleep — the rest of the time he has no special talent for sketching, his métier. (How appropriate he exhibits at the Rise Gallery.)

lee hadwin
Lee Hadwin (LEE HADWIN)

Sleepwalkers can also be a danger to themselves (poor Olive Oyl), or violent to others: Toronto’s Kenneth Parks who drove, asleep, 23 kilometers in 1987 to brutally murder the mother-in-law with whom he had a fond waking relationship.

kenneth parks
Kenneth Parks meets the press outside court

The number of people who sleepwalk is around 4%, and it’s on the rise, partially due to sleep medicines like Ambien. Philip Jaekl, writing for Aeon, explains what the latest science suggests is happening when people exhibit this uniquely human characteristic.

Scientists believe sleepwalking occurs when two areas of the brain — the limbic region of the brain that deals with raw emotions and the area of the cortex that manages complex motor activity — remain awake while the areas that would otherwise mitigate their primitive impulses — notably…

Brain training turns recall rookies into memory masters

brain links
Compared with novices, trained memory experts have some connections between brain areas that are stronger (red) and others that are weaker (blue). The bigger spheres highlight brain areas that have more connections specific to people with supercharged memory.

THINK LINK

Just six weeks of training can turn average people into memory masters.

Boosting these prodigious mnemonic skills came with overhauls in brain activity, resulting in brains that behaved more like those of experts who win World Memory Championships competitions, scientists report March 8 in Neuron.

The findings are notable because they show just how remarkably adaptable the human brain is, says neuroscientist Craig Stark of the University of California, Irvine. “The brain is plastic,” he says. “Through use, it changes.”

It’s not yet clear how long the changes in the newly trained brains last, but the memory gains persisted for four months.

In an initial matchup, a group of 17 memory experts, people who place high in World Memory Championships, throttled a group of people with average memories. Twenty minutes after seeing a list of 72 words, the experts remembered an average of 70.8 words; the nonexperts caught, on average, only 39.9 words.

In subsequent matchups, some nonexperts got varying levels of help. Fifty-one novices were split into three groups. A third of these people spent six weeks learning the method of loci, a memorization strategy used by ancient Greek and Roman orators. To use the technique, a person must imagine an elaborate mental scene, such as a palace or a familiar walking path, and populate it with memorable items….