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Laura Sanders SAN DIEGO — Mice raised in cages bombarded with glowing lights and sounds have profound brain abnormalities and behavioral trouble. Hours of daily stimulation led to behaviors reminiscent of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, scientists reported November 14 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. Certain kinds of sensory stimulation, such as sights and sounds, are known to help the brain develop correctly. But scientists from Seattle Children’s Research Institute wondered whether too much stimulation or stimulation of the wrong sort could have negative effects on the growing brain. To mimic extreme screen exposure, mice were blasted with flashing lights and TV audio for six hours a day. The cacophony began when the mice were 10 days old and lasted for six weeks. After the end of the ordeal, scientists examined the mice’s brains. “We found dramatic changes everywhere in the brain,” said study coauthor Jan-Marino Ramirez. Mice that had been stimulated had fewer newborn nerve cells in the hippocampus, a brain structure important for learning and memory, than unstimulated mice, Ramirez said. The stimulation also made certain nerve cells more active in general. Stimulated mice also displayed behaviors similar to some associated with ADHD in children. These mice were noticeably more active and had trouble remembering whether they had encountered an object. The mice also seemed more inclined to take risks, venturing into open areas that mice normally shy away from, for instance. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016.
By Clare Wilson It’s one of the boldest treatments in medicine: delivering an electrical current deep into the brain by implanting a long thin electrode through a hole in the skull. Such “deep brain stimulation” (DBS) works miracles on people with otherwise untreatable epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease – but drilling into someone’s head is an extreme step. In future, we may be able to get the same effects by using stimulators placed outside the head, an advance that could see DBS used to treat a much wider range of conditions. DBS is being investigated for depression, obesity and obsessive compulsive disorder, but this research is going slowly. Implanting an electrode requires brain surgery, and carries a risk of infection, so the approach is only considered for severe cases. But Nir Grossman of Imperial College London and his team have found a safer way to experiment with DBS – by stimulating the brain externally, with no need for surgery. The technique, unveiled at the Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego, California, this week, places two electrical fields of different frequencies outside the head. The brain tissue where the fields overlap is stimulated, while the tissue under just one field is unaffected because the frequencies are too high. For instance, they may use one field at 10,000 hertz and another at 10,010 hertz. The affected nerve cells are stimulated at 10 hertz – the difference between the two frequencies. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Link ID: 22875 - Posted: 11.16.2016
By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS Exercise may be an effective treatment for depression and might even help prevent us from becoming depressed in the first place, according to three timely new studies. The studies pool outcomes from past research involving more than a million men and women and, taken together, strongly suggest that regular exercise alters our bodies and brains in ways that make us resistant to despair. Scientists have long questioned whether and how physical activity affects mental health. While we know that exercise alters the body, how physical activity affects moods and emotions is less well understood. Past studies have sometimes muddied rather than clarified the body and mind connections. Some randomized controlled trials have found that exercise programs, often involving walking, ease symptoms in people with major depression. But many of these studies have been relatively small in scale or had other scientific deficiencies. A major 2013 review of studies related to exercise and depression concluded that, based on the evidence then available, it was impossible to say whether exercise improved the condition. Other past reviews similarly have questioned whether the evidence was strong enough to say that exercise could stave off depression. A group of global public-health researchers, however, suspected that newer studies and a more rigorous review of the statistical evidence might bolster the case for exercise as a treatment of and block against depression. So for the new analyses, they first gathered all of the most recent and best-designed studies about depression and exercise. © 2016 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 22874 - Posted: 11.16.2016
By Daniel Barron Neurobiology was the first class I shuffled into as a dopey freshman undergraduate student. Dr. Brown’s class began at 8AM. I wore that bowling jacket I bought from the Orem Deseret Industries, Utah’s version of Goodwill. I’d spent much of my childhood in lower-middle class neighborhoods of small towns: Middle and Junior High School in the Texas Hill Country; High School in rural Utah. In High School, I would jog through the countryside—down by the River Bottom’s road—and rehearse conversations and ideas that troubled me. I hadn’t learned the language of social justice or of science. I felt uneasy with many of the ideas I’d been taught but lacked the vocabulary to pinpoint why. Dr. Brown’s first lecture covered visual perception, ocular dominance columns, and the idea that brain structure and function were intertwined. To use my parlance at that age, this was a Revelation. The lecture outlined a completely novel way of thinking: the notion that between my ears, behind my forehead and nose was a collection of cells—of neurons, an organ—responsible for how I saw and perceived the world. I was young, I was a drug-free virgin, and this was without question the greatest catharsis I had ever experienced. Here wasn’t simply a foundation for my behavior, but for others’ as well. My theological leanings faded as I began to learn why I was Me. In response, I worked my ass off. © 2016 Scientific American,
Link ID: 22873 - Posted: 11.16.2016
Laura Beil NEW ORLEANS — Chronic sleep problems are associated with atrial fibrillation — a temporary but dangerous disruption of heart rhythm — even among people who don’t suffer from sleep apnea. An analysis of almost 14 million patient records has found that people suffering from insomnia, frequent waking and other sleep issues are more likely than sound sleepers to experience a condition in which the upper chambers of the heart quiver instead of rhythmically beating, allowing blood to briefly stagnate. “Even if you don’t have sleep apnea, is there something about sleep disruption that puts you at a higher risk of fibrillation,” said Gregory Marcus, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco. “We should put a higher priority on studying sleep itself.” Marcus and Matthew Christensen, from the University of Michigan, presented their results November 14 at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association. People with atrial fibrillation have double the risk of having a heart attack, and up to five times the risk of stroke. Although the heart condition can be a consequence of aging, its prevalence is rising at about 4 percent per year for reasons that aren’t totally explained. In the United States, about 5 million people currently have the condition, and that number is expected to rise to 12 million by 2030. A large body of studies has found that sleep apnea, which occurs when a person stops breathing during the night, can lead to atrial fibrillation and a host of other health concerns. Identifying a risk of atrial fibrillation among people with no sleep apnea is unexpected, says Richard Becker, director of the University of Cincinnati Heart, Lung & Vascular Institute, who was not part of the study. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016.
Link ID: 22872 - Posted: 11.16.2016
By Jessica Hamzelou You’ve got a spare hour before a big exam. How should you spend it? It seems napping is just as effective as revising, and could even have a longer-lasting impact. Repeatedly revising information to learn it makes sense. “Any kind of reactivation of a memory trace will lead to it being strengthened and reconsolidated,” says James Cousins at the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore. “With any memory, the more you recall it, the stronger the memory trace.” However, sleep is also thought to be vital for memory. A good night’s sleep seems to help our brains consolidate what we’ve learned in the day, and learning anything when you’re not well rested is tricky. Many people swear by a quick afternoon kip. So if you’ve got an hour free, is it better to nap or revise? Cousins, along with Michael Chee and their colleagues, also at Duke-NUS Medical School, set out to compare the two options. The team mocked-up a real student experience, and had 72 volunteers sit through presentations of about 12 different species of ants and crabs. The participants were asked to learn all about these animals, including their diets and habitats, for example. After 80 minutes of this, the students were given an hour to either watch a film, have a nap, or revise what they had just learned. After this hour, they had another 80 minutes of learning. Then they had to sit an exam in which they were asked 360 questions about the ants and the crabs. “The napping group got the best scores,” says Cousins, whose work was presented at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego, California on Tuesday. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
By Gary Stix Renowned neuroscientist Mu-Ming Poo is playing a key role in China’s contribution to the push by national and regional governments to set up gargantuan neuroscience research endeavors. The China Brain Project has yet to put forward funding specifics. But Poo, who directs the Institute of Neuroscience of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and has held multiple academic posts at U.S. universities, is helping to shape the project’s 15-year timeline. To circumvent the paucity of drugs for neurological illnesses, Poo’s own team wants to focus on finding solid evidence for video games and other behavioral training methods that might produce near-term cognitive benefits for China’s aging population. Poo talked to Scientific American recently about these plans. Can you tell us about the Chinese Brain Project? Its goal is similar to the brain projects that have been launched in other regions but I think we’ve put more emphasis on the brain disease aspect than the U.S. project has. The U.S. project is more concentrated on developing new technologies for observing and manipulating the activity of brain circuits. In China there is a particular urgency to solve problems related to brain diseases because of its large population and an aging society saddled with neurodegenerative diseases. If we don’t find a solution for Alzheimer's by 2050, the entire medical system is going broke. In China there is an estimate that there could be many tens of millions of Alzheimer's or Parkinson’s disease patients by 2050 if no cure is found, given the rate of increasing life expectancy. © 2016 Scientific American,
Link ID: 22870 - Posted: 11.16.2016
Laura Sanders SAN DIEGO — A nerve-zapping headset caused people to shed fat in a small preliminary study. Six people who had received the stimulation lost on average about 8 percent of the fat on their trunks in four months, scientists reported November 12 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. The headset stimulated the vestibular nerve, which runs just behind the ears. That nerve sends signals to the hypothalamus, a brain structure thought to control the body’s fat storage. By stimulating the nerve with an electrical current, the technique shifts the body away from storing fat toward burning it, scientists propose. Six overweight and obese people received the treatment, consisting of up to four one-hour-long sessions of stimulation a week. Because it activates the vestibular system, the stimulation evoked the sensation of gently rocking on a boat or floating in a pool, said study coauthor Jason McKeown of the University of California, San Diego. After four months, body scans measured the trunk body fat for the six people receiving the treatment and three people who received sham stimulation. All six in the treatment group lost some trunk fat, despite not having changed their activity or diet. In contrast, those in the sham group gained some fat. Researchers suspect that metabolic changes are behind the difference. “The results were a lot better than we thought they’d be,” McKeown said. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016.
Link ID: 22869 - Posted: 11.15.2016
By Jessica Hamzelou Having an agile mind in your 90s might sound like wishful thinking, but some people manage to retain youthful memories until their dying days. Now post mortems have revealed that these “superagers” manage to do this even when their brains have the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s diseases. Superagers have the memory and cognition of the average person almost half their age, and manage to avoid Alzheimer’s symptoms. Aras Rezvanian at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois, and his colleagues have been looking at brain samples donated by such people to try to understand what their secret might be. The group looked at eight brains, all from people who had lived into their 90s, and had memory and cognition scores of the average 50-year-old until their final days. Specifically, the team studied two brain regions – the hippocampus, which is involved in memory, and the prefrontal cortex, which is key for cognition. They found that the brain samples of the superagers had plaques and tangles in them to varying degrees. These are sticky clumps and twisted fibres of protein that seem to be linked to the death of neurons, and are usually found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease after they die. Of the eight superager samples, two had such a high density and distribution of these proteins that they resembled the most severe cases of Alzheimer’s. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Link ID: 22868 - Posted: 11.15.2016
By Rachel Feltman and Sarah Kaplan Dear Science, I just got a new iPhone and can't decide what kind of headphones I should be using. I read somewhere that ear buds are worse for you than headphones that fit over your ear. Is that true? I don't want to damage my hearing by using the wrong thing. Here's what science has to say: At the end of the day, nothing really matters but volume. No pair of headphones is inherently “good” or “bad” for your hearing. But picking the right headphones can help you listen to your music more responsibly. The louder a sound is, the more quickly it can cause injury to your ears. If you're not careful, a powerful sound wave can actually tear right through your delicate eardrum, but that's unlikely to happen while blasting music. Most hearing loss is the result of nerve damage, and your smartphone is more than capable of wrecking your ears that way. You can be exposed to 85 decibels — the noise of busy city traffic — pretty much all day without causing nerve damage, but things quickly become dangerous once you get louder than that. At 115 decibels, which is about the noise level produced at a rock concert or by a chain saw, nerve damage can happen in less than a minute. You might not immediately notice significant hearing loss as the result of that nerve damage, but it will add up over time. Some smartphones can crank music to 120 decibels. If you listened to an entire album at that volume, you might have noticeable hearing loss by the time you took off your headphones. According to the World Health Organization, 1.1 billion teens and young adults globally are at risk of developing hearing loss because of these “personal audio devices.” You already know the solution, folks: Turn that music down. © 1996-2016 The Washington Post
Link ID: 22867 - Posted: 11.15.2016
Tom Siegfried SAN DIEGO — Babies as young as 5 months old possess networks of brain cell activity that react to facial emotions, especially fear, a new study finds. “Networks for recognizing facial expressions are in place shortly after birth,” Catherine Stamoulis of Harvard Medical School said November 13 during a news conference at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. “This work … is the first evidence that networks that are involved in a function that is critical to survival, such as the recognition of facial expressions, come online very early in life.” Stamoulis and colleagues at Harvard and Boston Children’s Hospital analyzed a database of brain electrical activity collected from 58 infants as they aged from 5 months to 3 years. Brain activity was measured as the infants viewed pictures of female faces expressing happiness, anger or fear. Computer models of the brain activity showed that networks responding to fear were activated much more dramatically than those for happy or angry faces, even in the youngest infants. As babies grew older, their brain networks responding to facial emotions became less complex as redundant nerve cell connections were pruned. But the fear network remained more complex than the others, and response to fearful faces remained elevated over time. Understanding the brain circuitry involved in responding to emotional facial expressions could have implications for research on developmental disorders, Stamoulis said. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016.
By LISA FELDMAN BARRETT Bitterness. Hostility. Rage. The varieties of anger are endless. Some are mild, such as grumpiness, and others are powerful, such as wrath. Different angers vary not only in their intensity but also in their purpose. It’s normal to feel exasperated with your screaming infant and scornful of a political opponent, but scorn toward your baby would be bizarre. Anger is a large, diverse population of experiences and behaviors, as psychologists like myself who study emotion repeatedly discover. You can shout in anger, weep in anger, even smile in anger. You can throw a tantrum in anger with your heart pounding, or calmly plot your revenge. No single state of the face, body or brain defines anger. Variation is the norm. The Russian language has two distinct concepts within what Americans call “anger” — one that’s directed at a person, called “serditsia,” and another that’s felt for more abstract reasons such as the political situation, known as “zlitsia.” The ancient Greeks distinguished quick bursts of temper from long-lasting wrath. German has three distinct angers, Mandarin has five and biblical Hebrew has seven. In the past few weeks, many varieties of anger have been on vivid display. For starters, we now have an iconic angry man as the president-elect. Donald J. Trump is aggressive as he insists there’s something wrong with the country, and offensive when he’s provoked. He employs anger effectively to maintain his power and status. His anger is seen by his fans as strength and by his detractors as bombast. We’ve also seen Hillary Clinton’s more restrained anger, which she has directed against the divisiveness she perceived during the campaign. To her proponents, Mrs. Clinton’s anger fueled her resolve to push back against Mr. Trump’s most egregious statements. To her detractors, her anger made her a shrew. © 2016 The New York Times Company
By Arlene Karidis As a young teenager, Inshirah Aleem was sure she’d be heading to Harvard Law School in a few years. But the straight-A student went down another road. Within months of her 14th birthday, the quiet girl was telling outrageous lies, running away from home and stealing. She eventually landed in front of a judge and later was sent to foster care, where she lived in a basement, her belongings stuffed into a trash bag. It would be a year before Aleem, now a 38-year-old schoolteacher living in Greenbelt, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The brain condition is characterized by high (manic) moods and low (depressed) moods as well as by fluctuating energy levels. These unstable states are coupled with impaired judgment. The diagnosis explained her racing, disjointed thoughts and almost completely sleepless nights. And it explained her terrifying hallucinations, which were followed by a catatonic state where Aleem couldn’t move or talk. About 2.6 percent of adults and about 11.2 percent of 13- to-18-year-olds have bipolar disorder, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The disorder can be hard to recognize and harder to treat. Combining medications often brings substantial improvement, but some patients experience side effects and show minimal improvement. Researchers, who have found that bipolar disorder is inherited more than 70 percent of the time, hope to identify drugs to target the 20 genetic variations known to be associated with the disorder. © 1996-2016 The Washington Post
Link ID: 22864 - Posted: 11.14.2016
By CHRIS BUCKLEY BEIJING — When Flappy McFlapperson and Skybomb Bolt sprang into the sky for their annual migration from wetlands near Beijing, nobody was sure where the two cuckoos were going. They and three other cuckoos had been tagged with sensors to follow them from northern China. But to where? “These birds are not known to be great fliers,” said Terry Townshend, a British amateur bird watcher living in the Chinese capital who helped organize the Beijing Cuckoo Project to track the birds. “Migration is incredibly perilous for birds, and many perish on these journeys.” The answer to the mystery — unfolding in passages recorded by satellite for more than five months — has been a humbling revelation even to many experts. The birds’ journeys have so far covered thousands of miles, across a total of a dozen countries and an ocean. The “common cuckoo,” as the species is called, turns out to be capable of exhilarating odysseys. “It’s impossible not to feel an emotional response,” said Chris Hewson, an ecologist with the British Trust for Ornithology in Thetford, England, who has helped run the tracking project. “There’s something special about feeling connected to one small bird flying across the ocean or desert.” But to follow a cuckoo, you must first seduce it. The common cuckoo is by reputation a cynical freeloader. Mothers outsource parenting by laying their eggs in the nests of smaller birds, and the birds live on grubs, caterpillars and similar soft morsels. British and Chinese bird groups decided to study two cuckoo subspecies found near Beijing, because their winter getaways were a puzzle. In an online poll for the project, nearly half the respondents guessed they went somewhere in Southeast Asia. © 2016 The New York Times Company
By Jessica Hamzelou HB, who is paralysed by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), has become the first woman to use a brain implant at home and in her daily life. She told New Scientist about her experiences using an eye-tracking device that takes about a minute to spell a word. What is your life like? All muscles are paralysed. I can only move my eyes. Why did you decide to try the implant? I want to contribute to possible improvements for people like me. What was the surgery like? The first surgery was no problem, but the second had a negative impact for my condition. Can you feel the implant at all? No. How easy is it to use? The hardware is easy to use. The software has been improved enormously by the UNP (Utrecht NeuroProsthesis) team. My part isn’t difficult anymore after these improvements. The most difficult part is timing the clicks. How has the implant changed your life? Now I can communicate outdoors when my eye track computer doesn’t work. I’m more confident and independent now outside. What are the best and worst things about it? The best is to go outside and be able to communicate. The worst were the false-positive clicks. But thanks to the UNP team that is fixed. Now that the study has been completed, would you like to keep the implant, or remove it? Of course I keep it. How do you feel about being the first person to have this implant? It’s special to be the first. Thinking ahead to the future, what else would you like to be able to do with the implant? I would like to change the television channel and my dream is to be able to drive my wheelchair. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Amber Dance In a study published in Science in September, Cossart, a neurobiologist at the Institute of Neurobiology of the Mediterranean in Marseilles, France, opened up mouse brains to visualize their neural activity as the animals raced on treadmills and rested. As the mice ran, some 50 neurons in their hippocampi fired in sequence, possibly to help the animals measure the distance travelled. Later, when the mice were resting, certain subsets of those neurons turned on again1. This reactivation, Cossart suspects, has to do with encoding and retrieving memory — as if the mouse is recalling its earlier exercise. “The power of imaging is really to be able to see the cells, to see not only the active ones but also the silent ones and to map them on the anatomical structure of the brain,” she says. It has not yet provided proof for Cossart's hypothesis, but the microscope and neural-activity markers behind the techniques represent the very latest in methods to study brain connectivity. In the past, researchers studied just a few neurons at a time using electrodes implanted into the brain. But that gives a fairly crude picture of what is going on, like looking at a monitor with just a couple of functioning pixels, says Rafael Yuste, director of the NeuroTechnology Center at Columbia University in New York City. But new techniques are fleshing out the picture. Scientists can now watch neurons live and in colour, helping them to work out which cells work together. Methods such as Cossart's zoom in at the microscopic scale to catch individual neurons in the act; others provide a whole-brain, or mesoscopic, view. And although it is possible to perform these experiments with an off-the-shelf microscope, scientists have been customizing them to suit their specific purposes; these devices are in various stages of commercialization. © 2016 Macmillan Publishers Limited,
Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 22861 - Posted: 11.12.2016
Very stressful events affect the brains of girls and boys in different ways, a Stanford University study suggests. A part of the brain linked to emotions and empathy, called the insula, was found to be particularly small in girls who had suffered trauma. But in traumatised boys, the insula was larger than usual. This could explain why girls are more likely than boys to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the researchers said. Their findings suggest that boys and girls could display contrasting symptoms after a particularly distressing or frightening event, and should be treated differently as a result. The research team, from Stanford University School of Medicine, said girls who develop PTSD may actually be suffering from a faster than normal ageing of one part of the insula - an area of the brain which processes feelings and pain. Image copyright Science Photo Library Image caption The insula, also known as the insular cortex, is linked to the body's experience of pain or emotional experiences of fear The insula, or insular cortex, is a diverse and complex area, located deep within the brain which has many connections. As well as processing emotions, it plays an important role in detecting cues from other parts of the body. The researchers scanned the brains of 59 children aged nine to 17 for their study, published in Depression and Anxiety. © 2016 BBC.
By STEPH YIN Researchers have designed a system that lets a patient with late-stage Lou Gehrig’s disease type words using brain signals alone. The patient, Hanneke De Bruijne, a doctor of internal medicine from the Netherlands, received a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as A.L.S. or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 2008. The neurons controlling her voluntary muscles were dying, and eventually she developed a condition called locked-in syndrome. In this state, she is cognitively aware, but nearly all of her voluntary muscles, except for her eyes, are paralyzed, and she has lost the ability to speak. In 2015, a group of researchers offered an option to help her communicate. Their idea was to surgically implant a brain-computer interface, a system that picks up electrical signals in her brain and relays them to software she can use to type out words. “It’s like a remote control in the brain,” said Nick Ramsey, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands and one of the researchers leading the study. On Saturday, the research team reported in The New England Journal of Medicine that Ms. De Bruijne independently controlled the computer typing program seven months after surgery. Using the system, she is able to spell two or three words a minute. “This is the world’s first totally implanted brain-computer interface system that someone has used in her daily life with some success,” said Dr. Jonathan R. Wolpaw, the director of the National Center for Adaptive Neurotechnologies in Albany. © 2016 The New York Times Company
David Cyranoski For more than a decade, neuroscientist Grégoire Courtine has been flying every few months from his lab at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne to another lab in Beijing, China, where he conducts research on monkeys with the aim of treating spinal-cord injuries. The commute is exhausting — on occasion he has even flown to Beijing, done experiments, and returned the same night. But it is worth it, says Courtine, because working with monkeys in China is less burdened by regulation than it is in Europe and the United States. And this week, he and his team report1 the results of experiments in Beijing, in which a wireless brain implant — that stimulates electrodes in the leg by recreating signals recorded from the brain — has enabled monkeys with spinal-cord injuries to walk. “They have demonstrated that the animals can regain not only coordinated but also weight-bearing function, which is important for locomotion. This is great work,” says Gaurav Sharma, a neuroscientist who has worked on restoring arm movement in paralysed patients, at the non-profit research organization Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio. The treatment is a potential boon for immobile patients: Courtine has already started a trial in Switzerland, using a pared-down version of the technology in two people with spinal-cord injury. © 2016 Macmillan Publishers Limited
By Diana Kwon In people who suffer from pain disorders, painful feelings can severely worsen and spread to other regions of the body. Patients who develop chronic pain after surgery, for example, will often feel it coming from the area surrounding the initial injury and even in some parts of the body far from where it originates. New evidence suggests glia, non-neuronal cells in the brain, may be the culprits behind this effect. Glia were once thought to simply be passive, supporting cells for neurons. But scientists now know they are involved in everything from metabolism to neurodegeneration. A growing body of evidence points to their key role in pain. In a study published today in Science, researchers at the Medical University of Vienna report that glia are involved in long-term potentiation (LTP), or the strengthening of synapses, in pain pathways in the spinal cord. Neuroscientists Timothy Bliss and Terje Lømo first described LTP in the hippocampus, a brain area involved in memory, in the 1970s. Since then scientists have been meticulously studying the role this type of synaptic plasticity—the ability of synapses to change in strength—plays in learning and memory. More recently, researchers discovered that LTP could also amplify pain in areas where injuries or inflammation occur. “We sometimes call this a ‘memory trace of pain’ because the painful insult may lead to subsequent hypersensitivity to painful stimuli, and it was clear that synaptic plasticity can play a role here,” says study co-author Jürgen Sandkühler, a neuroscientist also at the Medical University of Vienna. But current models of how LTP works could not explain why discomfort sometimes becomes widespread or experienced in areas a person has never felt it before, he adds. © 2016 Scientific American