Chapter 15. Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language

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By Usha Lee McFarling, There’s something wrong with the brain banks created to study the dangers of repeated trauma to the head: Almost all the brains donated so far belonged to men. It’s just one example of how the study of brain trauma in women lags behind—even though women get concussions at higher rates than men in many sports and may suffer more severe and persistent symptoms. “If concussion is the invisible injury, then females are the invisible population within that injury,” said Katherine Snedaker, a licensed clinical social worker from Norwalk, Conn., who founded the nonprofit PINK Concussions in 2013 to focus attention on the issue. Evidence is building that the response to traumatic injury is different enough in females that they might benefit from gender-specific treatment, as they do with cardiac disease. But the data to create such guidelines simply aren’t there. “It’s an incredible gap in our knowledge,” said Angela Colantonio, director of the Rehabilitation Science Institute at the University of Toronto. “It’s just not acceptable.” When Colantonio examined 200 studies on prognosis after mild traumatic brain injury, she found only 7 percent separated out women. And if female athletes are overlooked, other groups vulnerable to concussion—aging women, women in prison, and domestic abuse survivors—have been nearly entirely ignored. © 2016 Scientific American

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 22897 - Posted: 11.22.2016

Laura Beil NEW ORLEANS — Popular heartburn drugs — already under investigation for possible links to dementia, kidney and heart problems (SN: 6/11/16, p. 8) — have a new health concern to add to the list. An analysis of almost 250,000 medical records in Denmark has found an association with stroke. Researchers from the Danish Heart Foundation in Copenhagen studied patients undergoing gastric endoscopy from 1997 to 2012. About 9,500 of all patients studied suffered from ischemic strokes, which occur when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain. Overall, the risk of stroke was 21 percent higher in patients taking a proton pump inhibitor, a drug that relieves heartburn, the researchers reported November 15 during the American Heart Association’s annual meeting. While those patients also tended to be older and sicker to start with, the level of risk was associated with dose, the researchers found. People taking the lowest drug doses (between 10 and 20 milligrams a day, depending on the drug) did not have a higher risk. At the highest doses, though, Prevacid (more than 60 mg/day) carried a 30 percent higher risk and Protonix (more than 80 mg/day) a 94 percent higher risk. For Prilosec and Nexium, stroke risk fell within that range. Introduced in the 1980s, proton pump inhibitors are available in both prescription and over-the-counter forms. While they are valuable drugs, “their use has been increasing rapidly,” says lead author Thomas Sehested, adding that people often take them for too long, or without a clear reason. Before taking them, he says, “patients need a conversation with their doctor to see if they really need these drugs.” |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016

Keyword: Stroke
Link ID: 22877 - Posted: 11.17.2016

By Felicity Muth Kirsty Graham is a PhD student at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, who works on gestural communication of chimpanzees and bonobos in Uganda and DRCongo. I recently asked her some questions about the work that she does and some exciting recent findings of hers about how these animals communicate. How did you become interested in communication, and specifically gestures? Languages are fascinating – the diversity, the culture, the learning – and during undergrad, I became interested in the origins of our language ability. I went to Quest University Canada (a small liberal arts university) and learned that I could combine my love of languages and animals and being outdoors! Other great apes don’t have language in the way that humans do, but studying different aspects of communication, such as gestures, may reveal how language evolved. Although my interest really started from an interest in languages, once you get so deep into studying other species you become excited about their behaviour for its own sake. In the long run, it would be nice to piece together how language evolved, but for now I’m starting with a very small piece of the puzzle – bonobo gestures. How do you study gestures in non-human primates? There are a few different approaches to studying gestures: in the wild or in captivity; through observation or with experiments; studying one gesture in detail or looking at the whole repertoire. I chose to observe wild bonobos and look at their whole repertoire. Since not much is known about bonobo gestural communication, this seemed like a good starting point. During my PhD, I spent 12 months at Wamba (Kyoto University’s research site) in the DRCongo. I filmed the bonobos, anticipating the beginning of social interactions so that I could record the gestures that they use. Then I spent a long time watching the videos, finding gestures, and coding information about the gestures. © 2016 Scientific American

Keyword: Language; Evolution
Link ID: 22840 - Posted: 11.07.2016

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS A single concussion experienced by a child or teenager may have lasting repercussions on mental health and intellectual and physical functioning throughout adulthood, and multiple head injuries increase the risks of later problems, according to one of the largest, most elaborate studies to date of the impacts of head trauma on the young. You cannot be an athlete, parent of an athlete, sports fan or reader of this newspaper and not be aware that concussions appear to be both more common — and more dangerous — than most of us once thought. According to a report released last week by the health insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield, based on data from medical claims nationwide, the incidence of diagnosed concussions among people under the age of 20 climbed 71 percent between 2010 and 2015. The rates rose most steeply among girls, with the incidence soaring by 119 percent during that time, although almost twice as many concussions over all were diagnosed in boys. The report acknowledges that the startling increase may partly reflect a growing awareness of the injury among parents, sports officials and physicians, which has led to more diagnoses. But the sheer numbers also suggest that more young people, particularly young athletes, are experiencing head injuries than in the past. Similar increases have been noted among young people in other nations. But the consequences, if any, for their health during adulthood have largely remained unknown. So for the new study, which was funded primarily by the Wellcome Trust and published in August in PLOS Medicine, scientists from Oxford University, Indiana University, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and other universities turned to an extensive trove of data about the health of people in Sweden. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 22728 - Posted: 10.05.2016

By Allison Bond, Although neurologist Amie Hsia was hundreds of miles away from the emergency room team caring for her ailing aunt last February, she knew her symptoms and imaging pointed to a severe stroke. Hsia’s aunt needed treatment fast with a clot-busting medicine and a procedure known as an endovascular thrombectomy, which removes the clot and restores blood flow to oxygen-starved patches of the brain. The hospital caring for her wasn’t equipped to perform the surgery, however, so Hsia insisted she be transferred to a nearby hospital, where the clot was removed from her brain. Hsia’s aunt survived and is able to live independently, despite some remaining symptoms from the stroke. Still, the travel to another hospital cost her valuable time—and could have hurt her in the long run. That’s the implication of a study published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found that the sooner patients with severe strokes receive a thrombectomy, the less disabled they tend to be three months later. The research indicates that the brain-saving benefits of thrombectomy are most pronounced within the first few hours after signs of a stroke begin, and that these effects decline with each passing hour. To some experts, the study is a call to rejigger the current method of determining where ambulances ought to take stroke patients, which is based solely on proximity. Instead, they say, patients with apparent severe strokes should be rushed to hospitals that perform thrombectomies. © 2016 Scientific America

Keyword: Stroke
Link ID: 22703 - Posted: 09.28.2016

By Abdul-Kareem Ahmed In the world of recreational and professional sports, many athletes—particularly in contact sports—suffer concussions. These mild traumatic brain injuries cause headaches, memory problems and confusion, but usually resolve on their own with rest. Some players, however, especially after repeated concussions, continue to experience symptoms for many months—a phenomenon termed post-concussion syndrome. A few of these players will eventually develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive neurodegenerative disease that causes dementia symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease. CTE can lead to personality changes, movement problems and, sometimes, mortality. CTE is diagnosed after death because it requires postmortem examination of a player’s brain. Post-concussion syndrome, in contrast, is diagnosed based on patient symptoms. To date, doctors do not have any objective tests to determine syndrome severity or relate it to the risk of developing CTE. Now, a group of researchers from Sweden and the U.K. say they have developed such a test, reporting their findings last week in JAMA Neurology. The test measures biomarkers in the cerebrospinal fluid—the colorless liquid that supports and suspends the brain and spinal cord—that appear to provide a measure of concussion severity and CTE risk. The researchers collected cerebrospinal fluid via spinal taps from 16 professional Swedish ice hockey players and a similar number of healthy individuals. The hockey players had all experienced post-concussion syndrome, causing nine of them to retire from the game. © 2016 Scientific American,

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Alzheimers
Link ID: 22700 - Posted: 09.27.2016

By KEN BELSON One of the frustrations of researchers who study chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease linked to repeated head hits, is that it can be detected only in autopsies, and not in the living. Researchers, though, have been trying to solve this problem in two primary ways: by identifying biomarkers linked to the disease that show up on imaging tests in certain locations in the brain, and by trying to locate in the blood the protein that is the hallmark of the disease. On Monday, two groups of researchers said they had made what they considered small steps in developing both methods. The announcements are small parts of much larger studies that will take years to bear fruit, if they ever do. Both methods have been questioned by detractors, some of whom say the hype is getting ahead of the science. Scientists, these critics note, have spent decades trying to find ways to accurately diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, which has some of the same characteristics as C.T.E. Still, at a medical conference in Boston on Monday, Robert Stern, a professor of neurology at Boston University, said technology developed by the company Quanterix (paid for in part with a grant from the N.F.L.) had identified elevated levels of tau proteins in blood samples of 96 former football players between 40 and 69 years old, compared with only 25 people of the same age in a control group. The results, which are part of a seven-year study and are under review for publication, are preliminary because they identify only the total amount of tau in the blood, not the amount of the specific tau linked to C.T.E. Additional tests are being done in Sweden to determine the amount of the C.T.E.-related tau in the blood samples, Stern said. Even so, Stern said, the blood samples from the 96 former players suggest that absorbing repeated head hits earlier in life can lead to higher concentrations of tau in the blood later. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Alzheimers
Link ID: 22699 - Posted: 09.27.2016

Jon Hamilton There's growing evidence that a physical injury to the brain can make people susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder. Studies of troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have found that service members who suffer a concussion or mild traumatic brain injury are far more likely to develop PTSD, a condition that can cause flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety for years after a traumatic event. And research on both people and animals suggest the reason is that a brain injury can disrupt circuits that normally dampen the response to a frightening event. The result is like "driving a car and the brake's not fully functioning," says Minxiong Huang, a biomedical physicist at the University of California, San Diego. Scientists have suspected a link between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and PTSD for many years. But the evidence was murky until researchers began studying troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. What they found was a lot of service members like Charles Mayer, an Army sniper from San Diego who developed PTSD after finishing a deployment in Iraq. In 2010, Mayer was on patrol in an Army Humvee near Baghdad when a roadside bomb went off. "I was unconscious for several minutes," he says. So he found out what happened from the people who dragged him out. The blast fractured Mayer's spine. It also affected his memory and thinking. That became painfully clear when Mayer got out of the Army in 2012. © 2016 npr

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Stress
Link ID: 22695 - Posted: 09.26.2016

By Virginia Morell There will never be a horse like Mr. Ed, the talking equine TV star. But scientists have discovered that the animals can learn to use another human tool for communicating: pointing to symbols. They join a short list of other species, including some primates, dolphins, and pigeons, with this talent. Scientists taught 23 riding horses of various breeds to look at a display board with three icons, representing wearing or not wearing a blanket. Horses could choose between a “no change” symbol or symbols for “blanket on” or “blanket off.” Previously, their owners made this decision for them. Horses are adept at learning and following signals people give them, and it took these equines an average of 10 days to learn to approach and touch the board and to understand the meaning of the symbols. All 23 horses learned the entire task within 14 days. They were then tested in various weather conditions to see whether they could use the board to tell their trainers about their blanket preferences. The scientists report online in Applied Animal Behaviour Science that the horses did not touch the symbols randomly, but made their choices based on the weather. If it was wet, cold, and windy, they touched the "blanket on" icon; horses that were already wearing a blanket nosed the “no change” image. But when the weather was sunny, the animals touched the "blanket off" symbol; those that weren’t blanketed pressed the “no change” icon. The study’s strong results show that the horses understood the consequences of their choices, say the scientists, who hope that other researchers will use their method to ask horses more questions. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Language; Evolution
Link ID: 22684 - Posted: 09.23.2016

By Rajeev Raizada These brain maps show how accurately it was possible to predict neural activation patterns for new, previously unseen sentences, in different regions of the brain. The brighter the area, the higher the accuracy. The most accurate area, which can be seen as the bright yellow strip, is a region in the left side of the brain known as the Superior Temporal Sulcus. This region achieved statistically significant sentence predictions in 11 out of the 14 people whose brains were scanned. Although that was the most accurate region, several other regions, broadly distributed across the brain, also produced significantly accurate sentence predictions Credit: University of Rochester graphic / Andrew Anderson and Xixi Wang. Used with permission Words, like people, can achieve a lot more when they work together than when they stand on their own. Words working together make sentences, and sentences can express meanings that are unboundedly rich. How the human brain represents the meanings of sentences has been an unsolved problem in neuroscience, but my colleagues and I recently published work in the journal Cerebral Cortex that casts some light on the question. Here, my aim is to give a bigger-picture overview of what that work was about, and what it told us that we did not know before. To measure people's brain activation, we used fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). When fMRI studies were first carried out, in the early 1990s, they mostly just asked which parts of the brain "light up,” i.e. which brain areas are active when people perform a given task. © 2016 Scientific American

Keyword: Language; Brain imaging
Link ID: 22676 - Posted: 09.21.2016

By Meredith Wadman Last year, in a move to counter charges that it has neglected the health and safety of its players, the National Football League (NFL) tapped Elizabeth “Betsy” Nabel as its first chief health and medical adviser, a paid position to which she told The Boston Globe she devotes about 1 day a month, plus some nights and weekends. (She and NFL have not disclosed her salary.) And last week, Nabel answered Science’s questions on the heels of NFL’s 14 September announcement that it will devote $40 million in new funding to medical research, primarily neuroscience relevant to repetitive head injuries—with grant applications judged by an NFL-convened panel of scientists, rather than by National Institutes of Health (NIH) study sections. Nabel is well known to many medical scientists as the cardiologist who directed the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at NIH, then left that job in 2009 to become president of a prestigious Harvard University–affiliated teaching hospital: Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Nabel’s new role with NFL came under media scrutiny in May, when a report by Democrats on the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee found that NFL inappropriately tried to influence the way its “unrestricted” donation to NIH was spent. It revealed, for example, that last year Nabel contacted NIH’s neurology institute director Walter Koroshetz to question the objectivity of an NIH study section and of a principal investigator whose team the peer reviewers had just awarded a $16 million grant. Robert Stern and his group at Boston University, with others, were proposing to image the brains and chart the symptoms of scores of college and professional football players across time. NFL suggested that the scientists, who have led in establishing the link between repetitive head injury and the neurodegenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), were not objective; Nabel described them in one email as “a more marginal group” whose influence it would be well to “dilute.” The scientists were to have been paid from $30 million that NFL donated to NIH in 2012. After the league objected to its $16 million going to fund the Boston University–led team—it did offer to fund $2 million of the amount—NIH’s neurology institute ended up wholly funding the 7-year grant with its own money. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Scienc

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 22669 - Posted: 09.20.2016

By Christof Koch Flies, birds, mice, dogs, monkeys and people all need to sleep. That is, they show daily periods of relative immobility and lack of response to external stimuli, such as light, sound or touch. This reduced sensitivity to external events distinguishes sleep from quiet resting, whereas the capacity to awaken from slumber distinguishes sleep from coma. Why sleep should be such a prominent feature of daily life across the animal kingdom, despite the fact that it leaves the sleeper unable to confront potential threats, remains mysterious. Still, much progress in characterizing the physiology and capabilities of the sleeping brain has occurred over the past century, driven by the ability to record electrical activity of the brain (via electroencephalography, or EEG, on the surface of the skull), of the eyes (via electrooculography, or EOG), and of facial or other muscles (via electromyography, or EMG). For scientists, it is this triad of simultaneous measurements that operationally defines the state of sleep, leading to both surprising and counterintuitive insights. Even without these tools, there are some basic things we do know about sleep. It is essential for our brain to function properly. Most of us have pulled all-nighters or have wanted to sleep but could not, unable to switch off our mind. The next day we are irritable, have trouble keeping our eyes open, and are terrible at tasks that demand sustained attention. Indeed, sleep deprivation causes many traffic accidents—the reason countries have laws that mandate a minimum rest period and maximum working hours for truck drivers. © 2016 Scientific American,

Keyword: Sleep; Laterality
Link ID: 22623 - Posted: 09.03.2016

By JAMES GORMAN Who’s a good dog? Well, that depends on whom you’re asking, of course. But new research suggests that the next time you look at your pup, whether Maltese or mastiff, you might want to choose your words carefully. “Both what we say and how we say it matters to dogs,” said Attila Andics, a research fellow at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest. Dr. Andics, who studies language and behavior in dogs and humans, along with Adam Miklosi and several other colleagues, reported in a paper to be published in this week’s issue of the journal Science that different parts of dogs’ brains respond to the meaning of a word, and to how the word is said, much as human brains do. Photo A dog waiting for its brain activity to be measured in a magnetic resonance imaging machine for research reported in the journal Science. Credit Enik Kubinyi As with people’s brains, parts of dogs’ left hemisphere react to meaning and parts of the right hemisphere to intonation — the emotional content of a sound. And, perhaps most interesting to dog owners, only a word of praise said in a positive tone really made the reward system of a dog’s brain light up. The experiment itself was something of an achievement. Dr. Andics and his colleagues trained dogs to enter a magnetic resonance imaging machine and lie in a harness while the machine recorded their brain activity. A trainer spoke words in Hungarian — common words of praise used by dog owners like “good boy,” “super” and “well done.” The trainer also tried neutral words like “however” and “nevertheless.” Both the praise words and neutral words were offered in positive and neutral tones. The positive words spoken in a positive tone prompted strong activity in the brain’s reward centers. All the other conditions resulted in significantly less action, and all at the same level. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Language; Evolution
Link ID: 22617 - Posted: 08.31.2016

By RACHEL RABKIN PEACHMAN New research shows that athletes who leave the game immediately after a concussion recover twice as fast as athletes who keep playing. Credit Fabrizio Costantini for The New York Times High school athletes who kept playing in the minutes after a concussion took nearly twice as long to recover as those who left the game immediately after the head trauma, a new study shows. The finding, published in the journal Pediatrics, is believed to be the first to focus on one of the most difficult social challenges of treating concussions: a pervasive sports culture that encourages young athletes to keep playing through pain. Medical guidelines call for benching the athlete immediately after the head injury to prevent long-term complications and the potentially devastating consequences of a second hit. “Kids are often reluctant to acknowledge a concussion,” said Dawon Dicks, a youth football coach with CoachUp in Andover, Mass. “The kid may want a scholarship and want to go to college, or it could be that ‘Dad or Coach wants me to play.’ That’s when they’re going to start to be a little dishonest in what they’re truly feeling.” The latest study tracked the neurological symptoms of 69 athletes who visited the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program after suffering head trauma during a contact sport. The athletes, who ranged from 12 to 19 years old, came from football, soccer, ice hockey, volleyball, field hockey, basketball, wrestling and rugby. The sample included 35 athletes who were removed from games right after getting a concussion and compared their symptoms and recovery to 34 athletes who kept playing in the game or match after taking a hit. The study found that players who stayed in the game after head trauma took an average of 44 days to recover. By comparison, athletes who left a game immediately after signs of concussion took only an average of 22 days to recover. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 22614 - Posted: 08.30.2016

Nicola Davis Children who suffer a traumatic brain injury, including mild concussion from a blow to the head, are less likely to do well at school and are at increased risk of early death, researchers have revealed. As adults they are also more likely to receive a disability pension, have failed to gain secondary school qualifications and nearly twice as likely to have been hospitalised for psychiatric reasons. The team analysed data from more than a million people born between 1973 and 1985, finding that around 9% had been diagnosed with at least one traumatic brain injury before the age of 25. More than 75% of these were mild injuries. The researchers compared the outcomes for these individuals with those of others who had not experienced a head injury, as well as carrying out a second comparison, where possible, with siblings who had not been injured. Once factors such as age and sex were taken into account, the team found that those diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury have an increased risk of experiencing a number of health and social problems. Those who had suffered a traumatic brain injury were 76% more likely to receive a disability pension, 58% more likely to have failed to gain secondary school qualifications and nearly twice as likely to have been hospitalised for psychiatric reasons, compared to those who had sustained no injury. When the researchers looked at patients who had siblings that had not sustained a traumatic brain injury, they found similar - although smaller - effects, suggesting that genetics could also play a role. © 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 22595 - Posted: 08.24.2016

Scientists and clinicians have long dreamed of helping the injured brain repair itself by creating new neurons, and an innovative NIH-funded study published today in Nature Medicine may bring this goal much closer to reality. A team of researchers has developed a therapeutic technique that dramatically increases the production of nerve cells in mice with stroke-induced brain damage. The therapy relies on the combination of two methods that show promise as treatments for stroke-induced neurological injury. The first consists of surgically grafting human neural stem cells into the damaged area, where they mature into neurons and other brain cells. The second involves administering a compound called 3K3A-APC, which the scientists have shown helps neural stem cells grown in a petri dish develop into neurons. However, it was unclear what effect the molecule, derived from a human protein called activated protein-C (APC), would have in live animals. A month after their strokes, mice that had received both the stem cells and 3K3A-APC performed significantly better on tests of motor and sensory functions compared to mice that received neither or only one of the treatments. In addition, many more of the stem cells survived and matured into neurons in the mice given 3K3A-APC. “This USC-led animal study could pave the way for a potential breakthrough in how we treat people who have experienced a stroke,” added Jim Koenig, Ph.D., a program director at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), which funded the research. “If the therapy works in humans, it could markedly accelerate the recovery of these patients.”

Keyword: Stroke; Stem Cells
Link ID: 22589 - Posted: 08.23.2016

By Daniel Barron After prepping for the day’s cases, “Mike Brennan,” a 63-year-old cardiology technician, sat down for his morning coffee and paper. On the front page, he discovered something troubling: he could no longer read. No matter how long he stared at a word, its meaning was lost on him. With a history of smoking and hypertension, he worried that he might have had a stroke. So, leaving his coffee, he walked himself down the hall to the emergency department, where neurologists performed a battery of tests to tease out what had happened. Mike still recognized individual letters and, with great difficulty, could sound out small words. But even some simple vocabulary presented problems, for example, he read “desk” as “dish” or “flame” as “thame.” Function words such as prepositions and pronouns gave him particular trouble. Mike couldn’t read, but there was nothing wrong with his eyes. Words heard were no problem. He could recognize colors, faces, and objects. He could speak, move, think and even write normally. Mike had “pure alexia,” meaning he could not read but showed no other impairments. An M.R.I. scan of Mike’s brain revealed a pea-sized stroke in his left inferior occipitotemporal cortex, a region on the brain’s surface just behind the left ear. © 2016 Scientific American

Keyword: Language
Link ID: 22586 - Posted: 08.23.2016

By Roni Caryn Rabin Dementia is a general term for a set of symptoms that includes severe memory loss, a significant decline in reasoning and severely impaired communication skills; it most commonly strikes elderly people and used to be referred to as “senility.” Alzheimer’s disease is a specific illness that is the most common cause of dementia. Though many diseases can cause dementia, Alzheimer’s accounts for 60 percent to 80 percent of dementia cases, “which is why you’ll often hear the terms used interchangeably,” said Heather Snyder, the senior director of medical and scientific operations for the Alzheimer’s Association. She said the question comes up frequently because patients may receive an initial diagnosis of dementia followed by an evaluation that yields the more specific diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, and they may be confused. The second most common form of dementia is vascular dementia, which is caused by a stroke or poor blood flow to the brain. Other diseases that can lead to dementia include Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Some patients may have more than one form of dementia. Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells. In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, that damage is characterized by telltale protein fragments or plaques that accumulate in the space between nerve cells and twisted tangles of another protein that build up inside cells. In Alzheimer’s disease, dementia gets progressively worse to the point where patients cannot carry out daily activities and cannot speak, respond to their environment, swallow or walk. Although some treatments may temporarily ease symptoms, the downward progression of disease continues and it is not curable. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 22559 - Posted: 08.16.2016

By NICHOLAS ST. FLEUR Orangutan hear, orangutan do. Researchers at the Indianapolis Zoo observed an orangutan mimic the pitch and tone of human sounds, for the first time. The finding, which was published Wednesday, provides insight into the evolutionary origin of human speech, the team said. “It really redefines for us what we know about the capabilities of orangutans,” said Rob Shumaker, director of the zoo and an author on the paper. “What we have to consider now is the possibility that the origins of spoken language are not exclusively human, and that they may have come from great apes.” Rocky, an 11-year-old orangutan at the zoo, has a special ability. He can make sounds using his vocal folds, or voice box, that resemble the vowel “A,” and sound like “Ah.” The noises, or “wookies” as the researchers called them, are variations of the same vocalization. Sometimes the great ape would say high-pitched “wookies” and sometimes he would say his “Ahs” in a lower pitch. The researchers note that the sounds are specific to Rocky and ones that he used everyday. No other orangutan, captive or wild, made these noises. Rocky, who had never lived in the rain forest, apparently learned the skill during his time as an entertainment orangutan before coming to the zoo. He was at one point the most seen orangutan in movies and commercials, according to the zoo. The researchers said that Rocky’s grunts show that great apes have the capacity to learn to control their muscles to deliberately alter their sounds in a “conversational” manner. The findings, which were published in the journal Scientific Reports, challenge the notion that orangutans — an endangered species that shares about 97 percent of it DNA with humans — make noises simply in response to something, sort of like how you might scream when you place your hand on a hot stove. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Language; Evolution
Link ID: 22495 - Posted: 07.30.2016

Laura Sanders Under duress, nerve cells get a little help from their friends. Brain cells called astrocytes send their own energy-producing mitochondria to struggling nerve cells. Those gifts may help the neurons rebound after injuries such as strokes, scientists propose in the July 28 Nature. It was known that astrocytes — star-shaped glial cells that, among other jobs, support neurons — take in and dispose of neurons’ discarded mitochondria. Now it turns out that mitochondria can move the other way, too. This astrocyte-to-neuron transfer is surprising, says neuroscientist Jarek Aronowski of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. “Bottom line: It’s sort of shocking.” Study coauthor Eng Lo of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School cautions that the work is at a very early stage. But he hopes that a deeper understanding of this process might ultimately point out new ways to protect the brain from damage. Mitochondria produce the energy that powers cells in the body. Scientists have spotted the organelles moving into damaged cells in other parts of the body, including the lungs, heart and liver. The new study turns up signs of this mitochondrial generosity in the brain. Astrocytes produce mitochondria and shunt them out into the soup that surrounds cells, Lo and colleagues found. The researchers then put neurons into this mitochondria-rich broth. When starved of glucose and oxygen — a situation that approximates a stroke — the neurons took in the astrocyte-made organelles. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016

Keyword: Stroke; Glia
Link ID: 22491 - Posted: 07.30.2016