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By CARL ZIMMER The Zika virus has quickly gained Ebola-level notoriety as it has spread through the Western Hemisphere in recent months. Researchers in Brazil, where it was first detected in May, have linked infections in pregnant women to a condition known as microcephaly: infants born with undersize heads. Where birth defects are concerned, however, the Zika virus is far from unique. A number of other viruses, such as rubella and cytomegalovirus, pose a serious risk during pregnancy. Researchers have uncovered some important clues about how those pathogens injure fetuses — findings that are now helping to guide research into the potential link between Zika and microcephaly. “I think we’ll discover a lot of parallels,” said Dr. Mark R. Schleiss, the director of pediatric infectious diseases and immunology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. The risk that viruses pose during pregnancy came to light in the mid-1900s, when outbreaks of rubella, or German measles, led to waves of birth defects, including microcephaly, cataracts and deformed hearts and livers. The number of infants affected was staggering. In an epidemic in Philadelphia in 1965, 1 percent of all babies were born with congenital rubella syndrome, which can also cause deafness, developmental disability, low birth weight and seizures. Because of vaccinations, such devastation is now rare in the United States and a number of other countries. “I’m 52, and I’ve seen one case of congenital rubella syndrome,” said Dr. David W. Kimberlin, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. But the virus is still a grave threat in developing countries. Worldwide, more than 100,000 children are born each year with congenital rubella syndrome. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 21883 - Posted: 02.10.2016

Mo Costandi The human brain is immediately recognizable by its cortex (meaning bark in Latin), the prominent outer layer of tissue, with its characteristic pattern of ridges and furrows, which sits atop the deep structures. The cortex is just several millimetres thick, but has a surface area of about two-and-a-half square feet, and is therefore heavily convoluted so it can be packed into the skull. This fleshy landscape begins to form during the second trimester of pregnancy, and continues into the first year of life. It is often assumed to be the result of genetics, like most other aspects of brain development. Forty years ago, however, Harvard researchers put forward the controversial idea that the brain folds up because of physical forces, and a new study now provides the first evidence this. According to this old model, the brain’s folds form as a result of differential growth which causes the cortex to grow in size far more quickly than other brain structures, leading it to buckle and fold as its surface area increases, due to the constraints of the skull. To test this, Tuomos Tallinen of the University of Jyväskylä in Finland and his colleagues used magnetic resonance images to create a 3D-printed cast of an unfolded 22-week-old human brain. This was made with a technique called layer-by-layer drop casting, and consisted of a soft polymer core coated with a thin sheet of an absorbent elastomer gel representing the cortex. © 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 21857 - Posted: 02.04.2016

By Jonathan Webb Science reporter, BBC News Scientists have reproduced the wrinkled shape of a human brain using a simple gel model with two layers. They made a solid replica of a foetal brain, still smooth and unfolded, and coated it with a second layer which expanded when dunked into a solvent. That expansion produced a network of furrows that was remarkably similar to the pattern seen in a real human brain. This suggests that brain folds are caused by physics: the outer part grows faster than the rest, and crumples. Such straightforward, mechanical buckling is one of several proposed explanations for the distinctive twists and turns of the brain's outermost blanket of cells, called the "cortex". Alternatively, researchers have suggested that biochemical signals might trigger expansion and contraction in particular parts of the sheet, or that the folds arise because of stronger connections between specific areas. "There have been several hypotheses, but the challenge has been that they are difficult to test experimentally," said Tuomas Tallinen, a soft matter physicist at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland and a co-author of the study, which appears in Nature Physics. "I think it's very significant... that we can actually recreate the folding process using this quite simple, physical model." Humans are one of just a few animals - among them whales, pigs and some other primates - that possess these iconic undulations. In other creatures, and early in development, the cortex is smooth. The replica in the study was based on an MRI brain scan from a 22-week-old foetus - the stage just before folds usually appear. © 2016 BBC.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System
Link ID: 21848 - Posted: 02.02.2016

By CATHERINE SAINT LOUIS The images pouring out of Brazil are haunting: struggling newborns with misshapen heads, cradled by mothers who desperately want to know whether their babies will ever walk or talk. There are thousands of these children in Brazil, and scientists fear thousands more might come as the Zika virus leaps across Latin America and the Caribbean. But the striking deformity at the center of the epidemic, microcephaly, is not new: It has pained families across the globe and mystified experts for decades. For parents, having a child with microcephaly can mean a life of uncertainty. The diagnosis usually comes halfway through pregnancy, if at all; the cause may never be determined — Zika virus is only suspected in the Brazilian cases, while many other factors are well documented. And no one can say what the future might hold for a particular child with microcephaly. For doctors, the diagnosis means an ailment with no treatment, no cure and no clear prognosis. If the condition surges, it will significantly burden a generation of new parents for decades. Dr. Hannah M. Tully, a neurologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, sees the pain regularly, particularly among expectant parents who have just been told that an ultrasound showed their child to be microcephalic: “a terrible situation with which to be confronted in a pregnancy,” she said. An estimated 25,000 babies receive a microcephaly diagnosis each year in the United States. Microcephaly simply means that the baby’s head is abnormally small — sometimes just because the parents themselves have unusually small heads. “By itself, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a neurological problem,” said Dr. Marc C. Patterson, a pediatric neurologist at the Mayo Clinic Children’s Center in Rochester, Minn. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 21844 - Posted: 02.01.2016

By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr. Federal health officials on Friday advised pregnant women to postpone traveling to 13 Latin American or Caribbean countries and Puerto Rico where mosquitoes are spreading the Zika virus, which has been linked to brain damage in babies. Women considering becoming pregnant were advised to consult doctors before traveling to countries with Zika cases, and all travelers were urged to avoid mosquito bites, as were residents of Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands. “We believe this is a fairly serious problem,” said Dr. Lyle R. Petersen, chief of vector-borne diseases for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “This virus is spreading throughout the Americas. We didn’t feel we could wait.” The C.D.C. advisory applies to 14 Western Hemisphere countries and territories: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. It applies to the entire countries “unless there is specific evidence the virus is not occurring somewhere,” Dr. Petersen said. This appears to be the first time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised pregnant women to avoid a specific region. The warning is expected to affect the travel industry and could affect the Summer Olympics, set for Brazil in August. Officials at Brazil’s Health Ministry were not available for comment Friday night. Hours earlier, Philip Wilkinson, a spokesman for the Rio 2016 organizing committee, said that Olympic venues “will be inspected on daily basis during the Rio 2016 Games to ensure there are no puddles of stagnant water and therefore minimize the risk of coming into contact with mosquitos.” Dr. Petersen said he did not want to speculate about how his agency’s warning might affect the Olympics. “This is a dynamic situation,” he said. “We’re going to wait and see how this all plays out. Viruses can spread in a population for some periods of time.” © 2016 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 21792 - Posted: 01.16.2016

by Laura Sanders Young babies get a bad rap. They’re helpless, fickle and noisy. And even though they allegedly sleep for 16 hours a day, those hours come in 20-minute increments. Yet hidden in the chaos of a young infant’s life are some truly magnificent skills — perceptual feats that put adults to shame. So next time your baby loses it because she can’t get her thumb into her mouth, keep in mind that her strengths lie elsewhere. Six-month-old babies can spot subtle differences between two monkey faces easy as pie. But 9-month-olds — and adults — are blind to the differences. In a 2002 study of facial recognition, scientists pitted 30 6-month-old babies against 30 9-month-olds and 11 adults. First, the groups got familiar with a series of monkey and human faces that flashed on a screen. Then new faces showed up, interspersed with already familiar faces. The idea is that the babies would spend more time looking at new faces than ones they had already seen. When viewing human faces, all of the observers, babies and adults alike, did indeed spend more time looking at the new people, showing that they could easily pick out familiar human faces. But when it came to recognizing monkey faces, the youngsters blew the competition out of the water. Six-month-old babies recognized familiar monkey faces and stared at the newcomers longer. But both adults and 9-month-old babies were flummoxed, and looked at the new and familiar monkey faces for about the same amount of time. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2015

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 10: Vision: From Eye to Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 7: Vision: From Eye to Brain
Link ID: 21769 - Posted: 01.09.2016

Katherine Hobson Pregnant women worry about all kinds of things. Can I drink alcohol? (No.) Can I take antidepressants? (Maybe.) Can I do the downward dog? (Yes.) Now there's one less thing to fret about: harm to the baby when the mother takes birth control pill right before conceiving, or during the first few months of pregnancy. According to a study covering more than 880,000 births in Denmark, the overall rate of birth defects was consistent for women who had never taken the pill at all, for those who had used it before getting pregnant and for those who continued on the pill in early pregnancy. (There were about 25 birth defects per 1,000 births for all groups.) The study is important because so many women take the pill – about 16 percent of women of childbearing age in the U.S. When used perfectly, the failure rate of the pill is less than 1 percent, but that jumps to 9 percent under typical use because of missed pills, drug interactions or illness. That means a lot of embryos are exposed to the hormones used in the pill, which can linger for a few months after a woman stops taking it. "Our findings are really reassuring," says Brittany Charlton, an author of the study and a researcher in the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health's epidemiology department. The results also confirm most of the previous research, which has pointed to no overall increase in major birth defects, she says. This study, published in the medical journal BMJ, used national birth, patient and prescription registry data to track contraceptive prescriptions among women who gave birth, then looked at whether birth defects were associated with pill use. © 2016 npr

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 21756 - Posted: 01.07.2016

Children conceived via infertility treatments are no more likely to have a developmental delay than children conceived without such treatments, according to a study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, the New York State Department of Health and other institutions. The findings, published online in JAMA Pediatrics, may help to allay longstanding concerns that conception after infertility treatment could affect the embryo at a sensitive stage and result in lifelong disability. The authors found no differences in developmental assessment scores of more than 1,800 children born to women who became pregnant after receiving infertility treatment and those of more than 4,000 children born to women who did not undergo such treatment. “When we began our study, there was little research on the potential effects of conception via fertility treatments on U.S. children,” said Edwina Yeung, Ph.D., an investigator in the Division of Intramural Population Health Research at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). “Our results provide reassurance to the thousands of couples who have relied on these treatments to establish their families.” Also taking part in the study were researchers from the University at Albany, New York; the New York State Department of Health, also in Albany; and CapitalCare Pediatrics in Troy, New York. The Upstate KIDS study enrolled infants born to women in New York State (except for New York City) from 2008 to 2010. Parents of infants whose birth certificates indicated infertility treatment were invited to enroll their children in the study, as were all parents of twins and other multiples. The researchers also recruited roughly three times as many singletons not conceived via infertility treatment. Four months after giving birth, the mothers indicated on a questionnaire the type of infertility treatment they received:

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 21755 - Posted: 01.07.2016

Laura Sanders It didn’t take a lot of brainpower to come up with the name for a nerve cell that looks like a bushy, round tangle of fibers perched atop a nucleus. Meet the shrub cell. This botanically named cell, discovered in the brains of adult mice, made its formal debut in the Nov. 27 Science. The newly described cell lives in a particular nervy neighborhood — an area called layer 5 in the part of the brain that handles incoming visual information. Xiaolong Jiang of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and colleagues defined shrub cells and other newcomers by their distinct shapes, their particular connections to other nerve cells or their similarities to nerve cells found elsewhere. Joining shrub cells are the freshly named horizontally elongated cells, deep-projecting cells, L5 basket cells and L5 neurogliaform cells. Each is an interneuron, a middleman that connects nerve cells to each other. The finding highlights the stunning variety of shapes and wiring patterns of cells in the brain. Citations X. Jiang et al. Principles of connectivity among morphologically defined cell types in adult neocortex. Science. Vol. 350, November 27, 2015. doi: 10.1126/science.aac9462 © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2015.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 21754 - Posted: 01.07.2016

By Katrina Schwartz It has become a cultural cliché that raising adolescents is the most difficult part of parenting. It’s common to joke that when kids are in their teens they are sullen, uncommunicative, more interested in their phones than in their parents and generally hard to take. But this negative trope about adolescents misses the incredible opportunity to positively shape a kid’s brain and future life course during this period of development. “[Adolescence is] a stage of life when we can really thrive, but we need to take advantage of the opportunity,” said Temple University neuroscientist Laurence Steinberg at a Learning and the Brain conference in Boston. Steinberg has spent his career studying how the adolescent brain develops and believes there is a fundamental disconnect between the popular characterizations of adolescents and what’s really going on in their brains. Because the brain is still developing during adolescence, it has incredible plasticity. It’s akin to the first five years of life, when a child’s brain is growing and developing new pathways all the time in response to experiences. Adult brains are somewhat plastic as well — otherwise they wouldn’t be able to learn new things — but “brain plasticity in adulthood involves minor changes to existing circuits, not the wholesale development of new ones or elimination of others,” Steinberg said. Adolescence is the last time in a person’s life that the brain can be so dramatically overhauled. © 2015 KQED Inc.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 21729 - Posted: 12.29.2015

A new, open-source software that can help track the embryonic development and movement of neuronal cells throughout the body of the worm, is now available to scientists. The software is described in a paper published in the open access journal, eLife on December 3rd by researchers at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) and the Center for Information Technology (CIT); along with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute, New York City; Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; Zhejiang University, China; and the University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington. NIBIB is part of the National Institutes of Health. As far as biologists have come in understanding the brain, much remains to be revealed. One significant challenge is determining the formation of complex neuronal structures made up of billions of cells in the human brain. As with many biological challenges, researchers are first examining this question in simpler organisms, such as worms. Although scientists have identified a number of important proteins that determine how neurons navigate during brain formation, it’s largely unknown how all of these proteins interact in a living organism. Model animals, despite their differences from humans, have already revealed much about human physiology because they are much simpler and easier to understand. In this case, researchers chose Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), because it has only 302 neurons, 222 of which form while the worm is still an embryo. While some of these neurons go to the worm nerve ring (brain) they also spread along the ventral nerve cord, which is broadly analogous to the spinal cord in humans. The worm even has its own versions of many of the same proteins used to direct brain formation in more complex organisms such as flies, mice, or humans.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System
Link ID: 21678 - Posted: 12.08.2015

In Greek mythology, the Hydra was a gigantic, snake-like monster with nine heads and poisonous blood and breath, which lurked in the swamps of Lerna. Heracles was sent to destroy the beast as one of his twelve labours, but when he decapitated one of its heads, two more grew back in its place. He eventually defeated it with the help of his trusty nephew Iolaus, however, by burning out the severed roots with firebrands to prevent the regrowth, then decapitating its one immortal head and burying it under a heavy rock. The real Hydra has regenerative capacities that surpass those of its mythological namesake. When it is dismembered, any fragment of its body can regenerate to form a completely new individual, and it can even remain alive after its entire nervous system has been lost. Researchers in Switzerland now report that it does so by adapting its skin cells to make them behave more like neurons. Their findings provide clues about how nerve cells first evolved, billions of years ago. Hydra is a small freshwater polyp with a tubular body consisting of just two layers of cells, and a network of nerves that controls its movements, feeding, and its light-sensitive stinging tentacles. The central region of its body contains specialized, multi-purpose skin cells which can contract and detect mechanical stimuli. These so-called ‘i-cells’ also act as stem cells, continuously renewing themselves, while also producing immature nerve cells that migrate out to the extremities, where they differentiate to form the dense nerve net. © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 21663 - Posted: 11.28.2015

by Laura Sanders Babies’ minds are mysterious. Thoughts might be totally different in a brain that lacks words, and sensations might feel alien in a body so new. Are babies’ perceptions like ours, or are they completely different? Even if babies could talk, words would surely fail to convey what it’s like to experience, oh, every single thing for the first time. A recent paper offers a sliver of insight into young babies’ inner lives. The study, published October 19 in Current Biology, finds an example in which 4-month-old babies are happily oblivious to the external world. The research focuses on a perceptual trick that suckers adults and 6-month-old babies alike. When the hands are crossed, people often mistake which hand feels a touch. Let’s say your left hand (now crossed over to the right side of your body) gets a tickle. Your eyes would see a hand on the right side of your body get touched — a place usually claimed by your right hand, but now occupied by your left. Those mismatches between sight, touch and expectation can thwart you from quickly and correctly saying which hand was touched. Here’s the twist: 4-month-old babies don’t fall for this trick, Andrew Bremner of Goldsmiths, University of London and his colleagues found. In the experiment, a researcher would hold infants’ legs in either a crossed position or straight, while one of two remote-controlled buzzers taped to their feet tickled one foot. The researchers then watched which foot or leg wiggled as a result. If the buzzed foot moved, that meant that the baby got it right. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2015.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 21613 - Posted: 11.07.2015

By Nicholas Bakalar Certain personality traits are often attributed to oldest, middle and youngest children. But a new study found that birth order itself had no effect on character, though it may slightly affect intelligence. Researchers analyzed three large ongoing collections of data including more than 20,000 people: a British study that follows the lives of people who were born in one particular week in 1958, a German study of private households started in 1984 and a continuing study of Americans born between 1980 and 1984. They searched for differences in extroversion, emotional stability, agreeableness, conscientiousness, self-reported intellect, IQ, imagination and openness to experience. They analyzed families with sisters and brothers, large and small age gaps and different numbers of siblings. They even looked to see if being a middle child correlated with any particular trait. But no matter how they spliced the data, they could find no association of birth order with any personality characteristic. The study, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, did find evidence that older children have a slight advantage in IQ scores, but the difference was apparent only in a large sample, with little significance for any individual. The lead author, Julia M. Rohrer, a graduate student at the University of Leipzig, said that birth order can have an effect — if your older brother bullied you, for example. “But these effects are highly idiosyncratic,” she said. “There is no such thing as a typical older, middle or younger sibling. It’s important to stop believing that you are the way you are because of birth order.” © 2015 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 21578 - Posted: 10.29.2015

By Dina Fine Maron Early-life exposure to anesthesia does not appear to lead to long-term cognitive problems, researchers announced today. New evidence from the first, randomized anesthesia trial in kids provides the strongest indication yet that exposing young children to anesthesia—at least for a brief time—will not saddle them with developmental deficits. The news comes just a couple of weeks after a medical advisory group reiterated its concerns about such exposures among children younger than four years. Previously, multiple animal and human studies have linked such exposure with cognitive impairment, but none of the information on humans came from a gold-standard, randomized study design that could help eliminate other reasons to explain such a connection. This is a “reassuring finding, but it is not the final answer,” says Dean Andropoulos, anesthesiologist in chief at Texas Children’s Hospital and an expert who was not involved in the work. The new study assesses only what happens to youngsters after a relatively brief bout with anesthetics, so it is possible that longer or repeated exposures to such chemicals may still cause neurodevelopmental issues. There may also be deficits in anesthesia-exposed children that are not measurable until later in life. The study followed more than 500 infants undergoing hernia repair across the U.S., Australia, the U.K., Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Italy. The surgeries lasted an average of roughly an hour. About half of the children were randomly selected to be put under with general anesthesia, and the other half stayed awake during the surgery and received targeted anesthesic in a specific body region. The kids in the study were all younger than 60 weeks and were matched by where they had the surgery and whether they were born prematurely. © 2015 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 14: Biological Rhythms, Sleep, and Dreaming
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 10: Biological Rhythms and Sleep
Link ID: 21568 - Posted: 10.26.2015

As we get older, most of us will experience some kind of brain degeneration. Typically, we lose the ability to make new neurons. Another problem is chronic, low-grade inflammation in the brain, which is implicated in many age-related brain disorders. To tackle both problems in one go, Ludwig Aigner at Paracelsus Medical University Salzburg in Austria and his colleagues targeted a set of receptors in the brain that, when activated, trigger inflammation. High numbers of these receptors are found in areas of the brain where neurons are born, suggesting they might also be involved in this process, too. A drug called montelukast (Singulair), regularly prescribed for asthma and allergic rhinitis, blocks these receptors, so Aigner and his colleagues tried it on young and old rats. The team used oral doses equivalent to those taken by people with asthma. The older animals were 20 months old – roughly equivalent to between 65 and 75 in human years. The younger rats were 4 months old – about 17 in human years. The animals were fed the drug daily for six weeks, while another set of young and old rats were left untreated. There were 20 young and 14 old rats in total. The rats took part in a range of learning and memory tests. One of these, for example, involved the rats being placed in a pool of water with a hidden escape platform. At the start of the study, untreated young rats learned to recognise landmarks and quickly find their way to the platform, while the untreated older animals struggled at the task. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 21562 - Posted: 10.24.2015

Claire Cain Miller Boys are falling behind. They graduate from high school and attend college at lower rates than girls and are more likely to get in trouble, which can hurt them when they enter the job market. This gender gap exists across the United States, but it is far bigger for poor people and for black people. As society becomes more unequal, it seems, it hurts boys more. New research from social scientists offers one explanation: Boys are more sensitive than girls to disadvantage. Any disadvantage, like growing up in poverty, in a bad neighborhood or without a father, takes more of a toll on boys than on their sisters. That realization could be a starting point for educators, parents and policy makers who are trying to figure out how to help boys — particularly those from black, Latino and immigrant families. “It’s something about family disadvantage itself,” said David Figlio, a Northwestern University economist and co-author of a new paper, presented publicly for the first time on Thursday. “Black people in America are more disadvantaged than white people in America, and if we were to reduce the disadvantage, we may see a reduction in the relative gender gap as well.” Marianne Bertrand, an economist at University of Chicago who with Jessica Pan has studied the gender gap, also found that boys fare worse than girls in disadvantaged homes, and are more responsive than girls to parental time and resources. “Their findings were very consistent: Families that invest more in children are protective for boys,” she said. The reasons that boys react more negatively to disadvantage are varied and hard to pinpoint. Even in utero, boys are more sensitive to extreme stress than girls, and tend to have more unruly temperaments. Society discourages boys from showing vulnerability. Low-income families are often led by single mothers, which has been found to affect boys differently than girls. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 21559 - Posted: 10.24.2015

Jon Hamilton Babies born prematurely are much more likely than other children to develop autism, ADHD and emotional disorders. Now researchers think they may have an idea about how that could happen. There's evidence that preemies are born with weak connections in some critical brain networks, including those involved in focus, social interactions, and emotional processing, researchers reported at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Chicago. A study comparing MRI scans of the brains of 58 full-term babies with those of 76 babies born at least 10 weeks early found that "preterm infants indeed have abnormal structural brain connections," says Cynthia Rogers, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "We were really interested that the tracts that we know connect areas that are involved in attention and emotional networks were heavily affected," Rogers says. That would make it harder for these brain areas to work together to focus on a goal or read social cues or regulate emotions, she says. The team used two different types of MRI to study the nerve fibers that carry signals from one part of the brain to another and measure how well different areas of the brain are communicating. Full-term infants were scanned shortly after they were born, while premature infants were scanned near their expected due date. The researchers are continuing to monitor the brains of the children in their study to see which ones actually develop disorders. © 2015 NPR

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System
Link ID: 21539 - Posted: 10.21.2015

By Kimberly G. Noble What if we could draw a line from key areas of a low-income child’s brain to a policy intervention that would dramatically reduce his or her chances of staying in poverty, dropping out of school and entering the criminal justice or social welfare system? Wouldn’t we want to make that policy prescription as widely available as any vaccination against childhood disease? Thanks to remarkable advances in neuroscience and the social sciences, we are closing in on this possibility. In a study published this year in Nature Neuroscience, several co-authors and I found that family income is significantly correlated with children’s brain size — specifically, the surface area of the cerebral cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain that does most of the cognitive heavy lifting. Further, we found that increases in income were associated with the greatest increases in brain surface area among the poorest children. Not surprisingly, our findings made many people uncomfortable. Some feared the study would be used to reinforce the notion that people remain in poverty because they are less capable than those with higher incomes. As neuroscientists, we interpret the results very differently. We know that the brain is most malleable in the early years of life and that experiences during that time have lifelong effects on the mind. Work by social scientists such as Sendhil Mullainathan at Harvard University and Eldar Shafir at Princeton University has shown that poverty depletes parents’ cognitive resources, leaving less capacity for making everyday decisions about parenting. These parents are also at far greater risk for depression and anxiety — poverty’s “mental tax.” All of this has important implications for children.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 21477 - Posted: 10.05.2015

By Steve Mirsky Harvard neuroscientist Beth Stevens, talking about glia cells, which make up more than half the human brain. This week Stevens got a MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called genius grant, for her studies of glia. “These cells are incredibly responsive to damage or injury. They can protect our brain by, for example, clearing bacteria or debris in the brain in the case of injury and disease… “Until about 10 years ago, almost all of the research devoted to these cells was in these contexts. We discovered that there was another role for these cells in the normal healthy brain, in particular during development… “So a synapse is the junction of communication between two neurons, it’s how neurons talk to each other…we’re actually born with an excess of synaptic connections…and through this normal developmental process called pruning, a large number of these extra synapses get permanently removed or eliminated while others get strengthened and maintained. These microglial cells were in fact engulfing or eating these extra synapses. So these cells are necessary to do this and now of course we’re trying to better understand how it is that they know which synapse to prune and which synapse to leave alone. “A hallmark of many neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, is the early loss of synaptic connections or synapses…And what’s most striking about this is, it’s thought that the synapse loss happens years before you see signs of cognitive impairment or pathology. © 2015 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 21470 - Posted: 10.03.2015