Chapter 11. Motor Control and Plasticity

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Learning is easier when it only requires nerve cells to rearrange existing patterns of activity than when the nerve cells have to generate new patterns, a study of monkeys has found. The scientists explored the brain’s capacity to learn through recordings of electrical activity of brain cell networks. The study was partly funded by the National Institutes of Health. “We looked into the brain and may have seen why it’s so hard to think outside the box,” said Aaron Batista, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh and a senior author of the study published in Nature, with Byron Yu, Ph.D., assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh. The human brain contains nearly 86 billion neurons, which communicate through intricate networks of connections. Understanding how they work together during learning can be challenging. Dr. Batista and his colleagues combined two innovative technologies, brain-computer interfaces and machine learning, to study patterns of activity among neurons in monkey brains as the animals learned to use their thoughts to move a computer cursor. “This is a fundamental advance in understanding the neurobiological patterns that underlie the learning process,” said Theresa Cruz, Ph.D., a program official at the National Center for Medical Rehabilitations Research at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). “The findings may eventually lead to new treatments for stroke as well as other neurological disorders.”

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Aggression
Link ID: 20008 - Posted: 08.28.2014

by Tom Siegfried René Descartes was a very clever thinker. He proved his own existence, declaring that because he thought, he must exist: “I think, therefore I am.” But the 17th century philosopher-mathematician-scientist committed a serious mental blunder when he decided that the mind doing the thinking was somehow separate from the brain it lived in. Descartes believed that thought was insubstantial, transmitted from the ether to the pineal gland, which played the role of something like a Wi-Fi receiver embedded deep in the brain. Thereafter mind-brain dualism became the prevailing prejudice. Nowadays, though, everybody with a properly working brain realizes that the mind and brain are coexistent. Thought processes and associated cognitive mental activity all reflect the physics and chemistry of cells and molecules inhabiting the brain’s biological tissue. Many people today do not realize, though, that there’s a modern version of Descartes’ mistaken dichotomy. Just as he erroneously believed the mind was distinct from the brain, some scientists have mistakenly conceived of the brain as distinct from the body. Much of the early research in artificial intelligence, for instance, modeled the brain as a computer, seeking to replicate mental life as information processing, converting inputs to outputs by logical rules. But even if such a machine could duplicate the circuitry of the brain, it would be missing essential peripheral input from an attached body. Actual intelligence requires both body and brain, as the neurologist Antonio Damasio pointed out in his 1994 book, Descartes’ Error. “Mental activity, from its simplest aspects to its most sublime, requires both brain and body proper,” Damasio wrote. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013.

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 20002 - Posted: 08.27.2014

Ian Sample, science editor Scientists have prevented muscle wastage in mice with a form of muscular dystrophy by editing the faulty gene that causes the disease. The radical procedure could not be performed in humans, but researchers believe the work raises hopes for future gene-editing therapies to stop the disease from progressing in people. Duchenne muscular dystrophy is caused by mutations in a gene on the X chromosome and affects around one in 3,500 boys. Because girls have two X chromosomes they tend not to be affected, but can be carriers of the disease. The pivotal gene is used to make a protein called dystrophin which is crucial for muscle fibre strength. Without the protein, muscles in the body, including the heart and skeletal muscles, weaken and waste away. Most patients die by the age of 25 from breathing or heart problems. Researchers in the US used a powerful new gene-editing procedure called CRISPR to correct mutations in the dystrophin gene in mice that were destined to develop the disease. They extracted mouse embryos from their mothers and injected them with the CRISPR biological machinery, which found and corrected the faulty gene. After the injections, the mouse embryos were reimplanted in females and carried to term. Tests on the mice found that the therapy helped to restore levels of dystrophin, and that their skeletal muscle performed normally, even when only 17% of their cells contained corrected genes. The procedure could not be done in humans, but the proof-of-principle experiment demonstrates that correcting only a small proportion of cells could lead to a dramatic improvement for patients. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Movement Disorders; Aggression
Link ID: 19966 - Posted: 08.16.2014

By Lenny Bernstein Comedian Robin Williams was grappling with severe depression when he committed suicide Monday, and on Thursday we learned that he also was in the early stages of Parkinson's disease. Sadly, the two conditions are often found together. In a 2012 study conducted by the National Parkinson Foundation, 61 percent of 5,557 Parkinson's patients surveyed reported that they also suffered from depression, with symptoms that ranged from mild to severe. Both conditions are associated with a shortage of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate movement and control the brain's pleasure center. "Dopamine is a feel-good chemical. If you are low in dopamine, you are not going to feel so good," said Joyce Oberdorf, president and CEO of the National Parkinson Foundation. "There are [also] other neurotransmitters that can be low." A separate study published Friday found that newly-diagnosed Parkinson's patients have higher rates of depression, anxiety, fatigue, and apathy than a control group of people without Parkinson's. Researchers from the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania found that 13.9 percent of patients had symptoms of depression when they were diagnosed with Parkinson's, a proportion that rose to 18.7 percent after 24 months. Just 6.6 percent of people without the disease had depression, and that dropped to just 2.4 percent after 24 months. Despite their depressive symptoms, most of the Parkinson's patients who also had that condition were not treated with anti-depressants at any point in the two-year study. The findings were published in the journal Neurology.

Keyword: Parkinsons; Aggression
Link ID: 19961 - Posted: 08.16.2014

by Catherine Brahic Think crayfish and you probably think supper, perhaps with mayo on the side. You probably don't think of their brains. Admittedly, crayfish aren't known for their grey matter, but that might be about to change: they can grow new brain cells from blood. Humans can make new neurons, but only from specialised stem cells. Crayfish, meanwhile, can convert blood to neurons that resupply their eyestalks and smell circuits. Although it's a long way from crayfish to humans, the discovery may one day help us to regenerate our own brain cells. Olfactory nerves are continuously exposed to damage and so naturally regenerate in many animals, from flies to humans, and crustaceans too. It makes sense that crayfish have a way to replenish these nerves. To do so, they utilise what amounts to a "nursery" for baby neurons, a little clump at the base of the brain called the niche. In crayfish, blood cells are attracted to the niche. On any given day, there are a hundred or so cells in this area. Each cell will split into two daughter cells, precursors to full neurons, both of which migrate out of the niche. Those that are destined to be part of the olfactory system head to two clumps of nerves in the brain called clusters 9 and 10. It's there that the final stage of producing new smell neurons is completed. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Neurogenesis; Aggression
Link ID: 19954 - Posted: 08.13.2014

By ZACH SCHONBRUN EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Victor Cruz dumped a bucket of ice water on his head at home on Sunday and then stepped out on thin ice himself — challenging the Giants’ co-owners to do the same. Taking part in the Ice Bucket Challenge — a social media craze that raises awareness for Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) — Cruz, a wide receiver, posted the video on his Twitter feed. “That water was cold, man,” Cruz said Monday. The Ice Bucket Challenge was started by friends and family members of Pete Frates, a 29-year-old from Beverly, Mass., who played baseball at Boston College and was found to have A.L.S., a neurodegenerative condition, in 2012. As a reward for withstanding the icy punishment, the participant gets to nominate another person, who has 24 hours to complete the task. Cruz aimed high, calling out the co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch to step under the bucket themselves. Just before practice on Monday, the 59-year-old Mara, wearing a white Giants T-shirt and black shorts, allowed Cruz to dump a Gatorade tub filled with ice water over his head. Before doing so, Mara nominated the Jets’ owner, Woody Johnson; the Patriots’ owner, Robert K. Kraft; and Patriots Coach Bill Belichick to do the same. “Feels good,” a smiling Mara said in a video posted on the Giants’ team website. It is unclear if Tisch will follow suit. Those who fail to complete the task within 24 hours are asked to donate to A.L.S. research. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease
Link ID: 19937 - Posted: 08.12.2014

By Fredrick Kunkle The way older people walk may provide a reliable clue about how well their brain is aging and could eventually allow doctors to determine whether they are at risk of Alzheimer’s, researchers have found. The study, involving thousands of older people in several countries, suggests that those whose walking pace begins to slow and who also have cognitive complaints are more than twice as likely to develop dementia within 12 years. The findings are among the latest attempts to find and develop affordable, inexpensive diagnostic tools to determine whether a person is at risk for dementia. Last month, researchers attending the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen presented several studies focused on locating biomarkers of dementia in its earliest stages. Among other things, scientists reported a connection between dementia and sense of smell that suggested a common scratch-and-sniff test could be used to help identify onset of dementia, while other researchers suggested that eye scans could also be useful someday be able to detect Alzheimer’s. Different studies found a new abnormal protein linked to Alzheimer’s and a possible link between sleep disorders and the onset of dementia. Now, researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and Montefiore Medical Center say that a simple test to measure a patient’s cognitive abilities and walking speed could provide a new diagnostic tool to identify people at risk for dementia. It could be especially important tool in low- and middle-income countries with less access to sophisticated and costly technology, the scientists said.

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 19910 - Posted: 08.02.2014

Using data from over 18,000 patients, scientists have identified more than two dozen genetic risk factors involved in Parkinson’s disease, including six that had not been previously reported. The study, published in Nature Genetics, was partially funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and led by scientists working in NIH laboratories. A gene chip. Scientists used gene chips to help discover new genes that may be involved with Parkinson's disease “Unraveling the genetic underpinnings of Parkinson’s is vital to understanding the multiple mechanisms involved in this complex disease, and hopefully, may one day lead to effective therapies,” said Andrew Singleton, Ph.D., a scientist at the NIH’s National Institute on Aging (NIA) and senior author of the study. Dr. Singleton and his colleagues collected and combined data from existing genome-wide association studies (GWAS), which allow scientists to find common variants, or subtle differences, in the genetic codes of large groups of individuals. The combined data included approximately 13,708 Parkinson’s disease cases and 95,282 controls, all of European ancestry. The investigators identified potential genetic risk variants, which increase the chances that a person may develop Parkinson’s disease. Their results suggested that the more variants a person has, the greater the risk, up to three times higher, for developing the disorder in some cases.

Keyword: Parkinsons; Aggression
Link ID: 19889 - Posted: 07.29.2014

Maggie Fox NBC News Walking is an almost magic elixir, doctors like to say. It can reverse diabetes, lower blood pressure, and help people keep the fat off. Now a study shows it can also help people with Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s patients who walked just three times a week felt less tired, less depressed and they found their Parkinson’s symptoms improved, also. “The results of our study suggest that walking may provide a safe and easily accessible way of improving the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and improve quality of life,” Dr. Ergun Uc of the University of Iowa and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center of Iowa City, who led the study. The findings would only apply to Parkinson’s patients who can still walk easily. Parkinson’s is caused by the loss of brain cells that produce a message carrying-chemical, or neurotransmitter, that is important for movement. Symptoms can start with a barely noticeable trembling but worsen to difficulty walking and talking, depression and other disability. There’s no cure and the drugs used to treat the condition usually stop helping over time. Some people have trouble walking. But for those who don’t, the study found, walking can help their symptoms. And other research suggests that regular exercise can help slow down the progression of Parkinson’s. Various programs show that dancing,cycling, Pilates and even boxing can help. But walking has a big advantage – people can do it anywhere, without special equipment, and on their own schedules.

Keyword: Parkinsons
Link ID: 19786 - Posted: 07.03.2014

Simon Makin Running helps mice to recover from a type of blindness caused by sensory deprivation early in life, researchers report. The study, published on 26 June in eLife1, also illuminates processes underlying the brain’s ability to rewire itself in response to experience — a phenomenon known as plasticity, which neuroscientists believe is the basis of learning. More than 50 years ago, neurophysiologists David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel cracked the 'code' used to send information from the eyes to the brain. They also showed that the visual cortex develops properly only if it receives input from both eyes early in life. If one eye is deprived of sight during this ‘critical period’, the result is amblyopia, or ‘lazy eye’, a state of near blindness. This can happen to someone born with a droopy eyelid, cataract or other defect not corrected in time. If the eye is opened in adulthood, recovery can be slow and incomplete. In 2010, neuroscientists Christopher Niell and Michael Stryker, both at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), showed that running more than doubled the response of mice's visual cortex neurons to visual stimulation2 (see 'Neuroscience: Through the eyes of a mouse'). Stryker says that it is probably more important, and taxing, to keep track of the environment when navigating it at speed, and that lower responsiveness at rest may have evolved to conserve energy in less-demanding situations. “It makes sense to put the visual system in a high-gain state when you’re moving through the environment, because vision tells you about far away things, whereas touch only tells you about things that are close,” he says. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Vision; Aggression
Link ID: 19779 - Posted: 07.01.2014

By Jim Tankersley COLUMBUS, Ohio — First they screwed the end of the gray cord into the metal silo rising out of Ian Burkhart’s skull. Later they laid his right forearm across two foam cylinders, and they wrapped it with thin strips that looked like film from an old home movie camera. They ran him through some practice drills, and then it was time for him to try. If he succeeded at this next task, it would be science fiction come true: His thoughts would bypass his broken spinal cord. With the help of an algorithm and some electrodes, he would move his once-dead limb again — a scientific first. “Ready?” the young engineer, Nick Annetta, asked from the computer to his left. “Three. Two. One.” Burkhart, 23, marshaled every neuron he could muster, and he thought about his hand. 1 of 14 The last time the hand obeyed him, it was 2010 and Burkhart was running into the Atlantic Ocean. The hand had gripped the steering wheel as he drove the van from Ohio University to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where he and friends were celebrating the end of freshman year. The hand unclenched to drop his towel on the sand. Burkhart splashed into the waves, the hand flying above his head, the ocean warm around his feet, the sun roasting his arms, and he dived. In an instant, he felt nothing. Not his hand. Not his legs. Only the breeze drying the saltwater on his face.

Keyword: Robotics
Link ID: 19770 - Posted: 06.25.2014

THE star of the World Cup may not be able to bend it like Beckham, but they might be able to kick a ball using the power of their mind. If all goes to plan, a paralysed young adult will use an exoskeleton controlled by their thoughtsMovie Camera to take the first kick of the football tournament in Thursday's opening ceremony in São Paulo, Brazil. The exoskeleton belongs to the Walk Again Project, an international collaboration using technology to overcome paralysis. Since December, the project has been training eight paralysed people to use the suit, which supports the lower body and is controlled by brain activity detected by a cap of electrodes placed over the head. The brain signals are sent to a computer, which converts them into movement. Lead robotic engineer Gordon Cheng, at the Technical University of Munich, Germany, says that there is a phenomenal amount of technology within the exoskeleton, including sensors that feed information about pressure and temperature back to the arms of the user, which still have sensation. The team hopes this will replicate to some extent the feeling of kicking a ball. The exoskeleton isn't the only technology on show in Brazil. FIFA has announced that fans will decide who is man of the match by voting for their favourite player on Twitter during the second half of each game using #ManOfTheMatch. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Robotics
Link ID: 19720 - Posted: 06.12.2014

by Laura Sanders Transplanted cells can flourish for over a decade in the brain of a person with Parkinson’s disease, scientists write in the June 26 Cell Reports. Finding that these cells have staying power may encourage clinicians to pursue stem cell transplants, a still-experimental way to counter the brain deterioration that comes with Parkinson’s. Penelope Hallett of Harvard University and McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., and colleagues studied postmortem brain tissue from five people with advanced Parkinson’s. The five had received stem cell transplants between four and 14 years earlier. In all five people’s samples, neurons that originated from the transplanted cells showed signs of good health and appeared capable of sending messages with the brain chemical dopamine, a neurotransmitter that Parkinson’s depletes. Results are mixed about whether these transplanted cells are a good way to ease Parkinson’s symptoms. Some patients have shown improvements after the new cells stitched themselves into the brain, while others didn’t benefit from them. The cells can also cause unwanted side effects such as involuntary movements. P. J. Hallett et al. Long-term health of dopaminergic neuron transplants in Parkinson’s disease patients. Cell Reports. Vol. 7, June 26, 2014. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2014.05.027. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013

Keyword: Parkinsons; Aggression
Link ID: 19707 - Posted: 06.07.2014

By Kelly Servick During the World Cup next week, there may be 1 minute during the opening ceremony when the boisterous stadium crowd in São Paulo falls silent: when a paraplegic young person wearing a brain-controlled, robotic exoskeleton attempts to rise from a wheelchair, walk several steps, and kick a soccer ball. The neuroscientist behind the planned event, Miguel Nicolelis, is familiar with the spotlight. His lab at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, pioneered brain-computer interfaces, using surgically implanted electrodes to read neural signals that can control robotic arms. Symbolically, the project is a homecoming for Nicolelis. He has portrayed it as a testament to the scientific progress and potential of his native Brazil, where he founded and directs the International Institute of Neuroscience of Natal. The press has showered him with attention, and the Brazilian government chipped in nearly $15 million in support. But scientifically, the project is a departure. Nicolelis first intended the exoskeleton to read signals from implanted electrodes, but decided instead to use a noninvasive, EEG sensor cap. That drew skepticism from Nicolelis’s critics—and he has a few—that the system wouldn’t really be a scientific advance. Others have developed crude EEG-based exoskeletons, they note, and it will be impossible to tell from the demo how this system compares. A bigger concern is that the event could generate false hope for paralyzed patients and give the public a skewed impression of the field’s progress. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Robotics
Link ID: 19698 - Posted: 06.06.2014

By MICHAEL BEHAR One morning in May 1998, Kevin Tracey converted a room in his lab at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, N.Y., into a makeshift operating theater and then prepped his patient — a rat — for surgery. A neurosurgeon, and also Feinstein Institute’s president, Tracey had spent more than a decade searching for a link between nerves and the immune system. His work led him to hypothesize that stimulating the vagus nerve with electricity would alleviate harmful inflammation. “The vagus nerve is behind the artery where you feel your pulse,” he told me recently, pressing his right index finger to his neck. The vagus nerve and its branches conduct nerve impulses — called action potentials — to every major organ. But communication between nerves and the immune system was considered impossible, according to the scientific consensus in 1998. Textbooks from the era taught, he said, “that the immune system was just cells floating around. Nerves don’t float anywhere. Nerves are fixed in tissues.” It would have been “inconceivable,” he added, to propose that nerves were directly interacting with immune cells. Nonetheless, Tracey was certain that an interface existed, and that his rat would prove it. After anesthetizing the animal, Tracey cut an incision in its neck, using a surgical microscope to find his way around his patient’s anatomy. With a hand-held nerve stimulator, he delivered several one-second electrical pulses to the rat’s exposed vagus nerve. He stitched the cut closed and gave the rat a bacterial toxin known to promote the production of tumor necrosis factor, or T.N.F., a protein that triggers inflammation in animals, including humans. “We let it sleep for an hour, then took blood tests,” he said. The bacterial toxin should have triggered rampant inflammation, but instead the production of tumor necrosis factor was blocked by 75 percent. “For me, it was a life-changing moment,” Tracey said. What he had demonstrated was that the nervous system was like a computer terminal through which you could deliver commands to stop a problem, like acute inflammation, before it starts, or repair a body after it gets sick. “All the information is coming and going as electrical signals,” Tracey said. For months, he’d been arguing with his staff, whose members considered this rat project of his harebrained. “Half of them were in the hallway betting against me,” Tracey said. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Robotics
Link ID: 19649 - Posted: 05.23.2014

A drug to treat a particular form of Duchenne muscular dystrophy has been given the green light by the European Medicines Agency and could be available in the UK in six months. Translarna is only relevant to patients with a 'nonsense mutation', who make up 10-15% of those affected by Duchenne. The EMA decided not to pass the drug in January, but they have since re-examined the evidence. A campaign group said the drug must reach the right children without delay. There are currently no approved therapies available for this life-threatening condition. The patients who will benefit the most are those aged five years and over who are still able to walk, the EMA said. Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a genetic disease that gradually causes weakness and loss of muscle function. Patients with the condition lack normal dystrophin, a protein found in muscles, which helps to protect muscles from injury. In patients with the disease, the muscles become damaged and eventually stop working. There are 2,400 children in the UK living with muscular dystrophy, but only those whose condition is caused by a particular 'nonsense mutation' - namely 200 children - are suitable to use Translarna. The drug, ataluren, will be known by the brand name of Translarna in the EU. It was developed by PTC Therapeutics. The next step will see the European Commission rubberstamp the EMA's scientific 'green light' within the next three months and authorise the drug to be marketed in the European Union. At that point, individual member states, including the UK, must decide how it will be funded. The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign is calling for urgent meetings with National Institute of Health of Clinical Excellence (NICE) and NHS England to discuss how Translarna can be cleared for approval and use in the UK. It said families in the UK could have access to the drug by spring 2015. Robert Meadowcroft, chief executive of the campaign, said: "This decision by the EMA is fantastic news. BBC © 2014

Keyword: Muscles; Aggression
Link ID: 19648 - Posted: 05.23.2014

By JAMES GORMAN If an exercise wheel sits in a forest, will mice run on it? Every once in a while, science asks a simple question and gets a straightforward answer. In this case, yes, they will. And not only mice, but also rats, shrews, frogs and slugs. True, the frogs did not exactly run, and the slugs probably ended up on the wheel by accident, but the mice clearly enjoyed it. That, scientists said, means that wheel-running is not a neurotic behavior found only in caged mice. They like the wheel. Two researchers in the Netherlands did an experiment that it seems nobody had tried before. They placed exercise wheels outdoors in a yard garden and in an area of dunes, and monitored the wheels with motion detectors and automatic cameras. They were inspired by questions from animal welfare committees at universities about whether mice were really enjoying wheel-running, an activity used in all sorts of studies, or were instead like bears pacing in a cage, stressed and neurotic. Would they run on a wheel if they were free? Now there is no doubt. Mice came to the wheels like human beings to a health club holding a spring membership sale. They made the wheels spin. They hopped on, hopped off and hopped back on. “When I saw the first mice, I was extremely happy,” said Johanna H. Meijer at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands. “I had to laugh about the results, but at the same time, I take it very seriously. It’s funny, and it’s important at the same time.” Dr. Meijer’s day job is as a “brain electrophysiologist” studying biological rhythms in mice. She relished the chance to get out of the laboratory and study wild animals, and in a way that no one else had. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions; Aggression
Link ID: 19641 - Posted: 05.20.2014

Dr. Mark Saleh Bell's palsy is a neurological condition frequently seen in emergency rooms and medical offices. Symptoms consist of weakness involving all muscles on one side of the face. About 40,000 cases occur annually in the United States. Men and women are equally affected, and though it can occur at any age, people in their 40s are especially vulnerable. The facial weakness that occurs in Bell's palsy prevents the eye of the affected side from blinking properly and causes the mouth to droop. Because the eyelid doesn't close sufficiently, the eye can dry and become irritated. Bell's palsy symptoms progress fairly rapidly, with weakness usually occurring within three days. If the progression of weakness is more gradual and extends beyond a week, Bell's palsy may not be the problem, and other potential causes should be investigated. Those with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or pregnancy, are at greater risk of developing Bell's palsy, and those who have had one episode have an 8 percent chance of recurrence. Bell's palsy is thought to occur when the seventh cranial (facial) nerve becomes inflamed. The nerve controls the muscles involved in facial expression and is responsible for other functions, including taste perception, eye tearing and salivation. The cause of the inflammation is unknown, although the herpes simplex virus and autoimmune inflammation are possible causes. © 2014 Hearst Communications, Inc.

Keyword: Movement Disorders
Link ID: 19637 - Posted: 05.20.2014

Katia Moskvitch The hundreds of suckers on an octopus’s eight arms leech reflexively to almost anything they come into contact with — but never grasp the animal itself, even though an octopus does not always know what its arms are doing. Today, researchers reveal that the animal’s skin produces a chemical that stops the octopus’s suckers from grabbing hold of its own body parts, and getting tangled up. “Octopus arms have a built-in mechanism that prevents the suckers from grabbing octopus skin,” says neuroscientist Guy Levy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the lead author of the work, which appears today in Current Biology1. It is the first demonstration of a chemical self-recognition mechanism in motor control, and could help scientists to build better bio-inspired soft robots. To find out just how an octopus avoids latching onto itself, Levy and his colleagues cut off an octopus’s arm and subjected it to a series of tests. (The procedure is not considered traumatic, says Levy, because octopuses occasionally lose an arm in nature and behave normally while the limb regenerates.) The severed arms remained active for more than an hour after amputation, firmly grabbing almost any object, with three exceptions: the former host; any other live octopus; and other amputated arms. “But when we peeled the skin off an amputated arm and submitted it to another amputated arm, we were surprised to see that it grabbed the skinned arm as any other item,” says co-author Nir Nesher, also a neuroscientist at the Hebrew University. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group,

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 19623 - Posted: 05.15.2014

By Suzanne Allard Levingston, Playing with bubble wrap is a silly activity that delights most preschoolers. But for one 21 / 2-year-old from Silver Spring, loud noises such as the pop of plastic bubbles were so upsetting that he would cover his ears and run away. Some days the sound of a vacuum cleaner would make him scream. The child so persistently avoided activities with too much noise and motion that his preschool’s administrators asked to meet with his family — and soon an assessment led to a diagnosis of sensory processing disorder, or SPD. SPD is a clinical label for people who have abnormal behavioral responses to sensory input such as sound and touch. Some children with SPD seem oversensitive to ordinary stimuli such as a shirt label’s scratching their skin. Others can be underresponsive — seemingly unaffected by the prick of a needle. A third group have motor problems that make holding a pencil or riding a bike seem impossible. Whatever the difficulty, such kids are often described as “out-of-sync,” a term popularized by Carol Stock Kranowitz’s 1998 book “The Out-of-Sync Child,” which has sold nearly 700,000 copies. As many as 16 percent of school-age kids in the United States may face sensory processing challenges. And yet there’s debate over whether these challenges constitute a discrete medical disorder. Some experts contend that SPD may be merely a symptom of some other ailment — autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety disorder or fragile X syndrome, for example — while others insist it is a separate condition that should be labeled a disorder when it interferes with daily life. The debate over how to classify SPD is not merely matter of semantics. Such discussions can affect research funding and can guide whether insurers will reimburse therapy costs. © 1996-2014 The Washington Post

Keyword: Autism; Aggression
Link ID: 19607 - Posted: 05.13.2014