Chapter 7. Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior

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By Linda Carroll A college education may do a lot more than provide better job opportunities — it may also make brains more resilient to trauma, a new study suggests. The more years of education people have, the more likely they will recover from a traumatic brain injury, according to the study published Wednesday in Neurology. In fact, one year after a traumatic brain injury, people with a college education were nearly four times as likely as those who hadn’t finished high school to return to work or school with no disability. Earlier studies had shown that education might have a protective effect when it comes to degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s. Scientists have theorized that education leads to greater “cognitive reserve,” which allows people to overcome or compensate for brain damage. So if there are two people with the same degree of damage from Alzheimer’s, the more highly educated one will show fewer symptoms. The assumption is that education changes and expands the brain, leaving it better able to cope with challenges. “Added capacity allows us to either work around the damaged areas or to adapt,” said Eric B. Schneider, an assistant professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Schneider and his colleagues suspected that cognitive reserve might play an equally important role in helping people rehab from acute brain damage that results from falls, car crashes and other accidents as it does in Alzheimer’s disease.

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Aggression
Link ID: 19530 - Posted: 04.24.2014

Victoria Colliver, Erin Allday Women who gain too much or too little weight during pregnancy can greatly increase their baby's risk of being overweight or obese as a young child, according to a study by Kaiser Permanente researchers. Researchers examined the health records from 4,145 Northern California Kaiser members who filled out a health survey between 2007 and 2009 and subsequently gave birth. They found that women who exceeded the Institute of Medicine's revised 2009 guidelines for weight gain during pregnancy were 46 percent more likely than women who met the guidelines to have an obese or overweight child between the ages of 2 and 5 years old. Under the new guidelines, women who are obese - defined as those with a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or higher - should gain 11 to 20 pounds. Overweight women - with BMIs between 25 and 29 - can gain 15 to 25 pounds. And normal-weight women are recommended to gain between 25 and 35 pounds. Those who are underweight - with BMIs under 18.5 - are to gain 28 to 40 pounds. Women who had a healthy BMI before their pregnancy but gained less weight than recommended were 63 percent more likely than those who met the guidelines to have an obese or overweight child. Meanwhile, healthy-weight women who exceeded the guidelines were 79 percent more likely to have an overweight child. Researchers suggested gaining too little or too much weight may permanently affect the body's mechanisms that manage energy balance and metabolism. The study, which is considered the largest to examine the new guidelines in relationship to childhood obesity, was published April 14 in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. © 2014 Hearst Communications, Inc.

Keyword: Obesity; Aggression
Link ID: 19524 - Posted: 04.23.2014

By JAMES GORMAN As the Brain Initiative announced by President Obama a year ago continues to set priorities and gear up for what researchers hope will be a decade-long program to understand how the brain works, two projects independent of that effort reached milestones in their brain mapping work. Both projects, one public and one private, are examples of the widespread effort in neuroscience to create databases and maps of brain structure and function that can serve as a foundation for research. While the Obama initiative is concentrating on the development of new tools, that research will build on and use the data being acquired in projects like these. One group of 80 researchers, working as part of a consortium of institutions funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, reported that it had mapped the genetic activity of the human fetal brain. Among other initial findings, the map, the first installment of an atlas of the developing human brain called BrainSpan, confirmed the significance of areas thought to be important in the development of autism. A group of 33 researchers, all but one at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, announced an atlas of the mouse brain showing the connections among 295 different regions. Ed Lein, an investigator at Allen, was the senior author on the fetal brain paper. He said the research required making sections only 20 microns thick, up to 3,500 for each of four brains, two from fetuses at 15 weeks of development and two from about 21 weeks. The researchers measured the activity of 20,000 genes in 300 different brain structures. One interesting finding, Dr. Lein said, was that “95 percent of the genome was used,” meaning almost all of the genes were active during brain development, significantly more than in adult brains. The team also found many differences from the mouse brain, underscoring the findings that, despite the many similarities in all mammalian brains, only so much can be extrapolated to humans from other animals. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain imaging; Aggression
Link ID: 19515 - Posted: 04.22.2014

Forget cellphones; rambunctious friends may be the riskiest driver distraction for teens, according to a new study. Researchers installed video and G-force recorders in the vehicles of 52 newly licensed high school students for 6 months. They found that certain distractions, such as fiddling with the car’s controls and eating, were not strongly related to serious incidents, which included collisions and evasive maneuvers. However, when passengers in the car were engaged in loud conversation, teen drivers were six times more likely to have a serious incident. What’s more, horseplay increased risk by a factor of three whereas cellphone use only doubled it, the team reported online this week in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Forty-three states restrict newly licensed drivers from having more than one other teen in the car, and the study authors say their data suggest that's good policy. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Attention; Aggression
Link ID: 19514 - Posted: 04.22.2014

The negative social, physical and mental health effects of childhood bullying are still evident nearly 40 years later, according to research by British psychiatrists. In the first study of its kind to look at the effects of childhood bullying beyond early adulthood, the researchers said its impact is "persistent and pervasive", with people who were bullied when young more likely to have poorer physical and psychological health and poorer cognitive functioning at age 50. "The effects of bullying are still visible nearly four decades later ... with health, social and economic consequences lasting well into adulthood," said Ryu Takizawa, who led the study at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London. The findings, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry on Friday, come from the British National Child Development Study which includes data on all children born in England, Scotland and Wales during one week in 1958. It included 7,771 children whose parents gave information on their child's exposure to bullying when they were aged 7 and 11. The children were then followed up until they reached 50. Bullying is characterized by repeated hurtful actions by children of a similar age, where the victim finds it difficult to defend themselves. More than a quarter of children in the study — 28 per cent — had been bullied occasionally, and 15 per cent were bullied frequently - rates that the researchers said were similar to the situation in Britain today. The study, which adjusted for other factors such as childhood IQ, emotional and behavioural problems and low parental involvement, found people who were frequently bullied in childhood were at an increased risk of mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and experiencing suicidal thoughts. © CBC 2014

Keyword: Stress; Aggression
Link ID: 19513 - Posted: 04.21.2014

Virginia Hughes Trauma is insidious. It not only increases a person’s risk for psychiatric disorders, but can also spill over into the next generation. People who were traumatized during the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia tended to have children with depression and anxiety, for example, and children of Australian veterans of the Vietnam War have higher rates of suicide than the general population. Trauma’s impact comes partly from social factors, such as its influence on how parents interact with their children. But stress also leaves ‘epigenetic marks’ — chemical changes that affect how DNA is expressed without altering its sequence. A study published this week in Nature Neuroscience finds that stress in early life alters the production of small RNAs, called microRNAs, in the sperm of mice (K. Gapp et al. Nature Neurosci. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nn.3695; 2014). The mice show depressive behaviours that persist in their progeny, which also show glitches in metabolism. The study is notable for showing that sperm responds to the environment, says Stephen Krawetz, a geneticist at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Michigan, who studies microRNAs in human sperm. (He was not involved in the latest study.) “Dad is having a much larger role in the whole process, rather than just delivering his genome and being done with it,” he says. He adds that this is one of a growing number of studies to show that subtle changes in sperm microRNAs “set the stage for a huge plethora of other effects”. In the new study, Isabelle Mansuy, a neuroscientist at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, and her colleagues periodically separated mother mice from their young pups and exposed the mothers to stressful situations — either by placing them in cold water or physically restraining them. These separations occurred every day but at erratic times, so that the mothers could not comfort their pups (termed the F1 generation) with extra cuddling before separation. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group,

Keyword: Stress; Aggression
Link ID: 19498 - Posted: 04.16.2014

By Emily Chung, CBC News If you're in your late 20s or older, you're not as sharp as you used to be, suggests a study of gamers playing the popular video game Starcraft 2. The study analyzed the way 3,305 people, aged 16 to 44, played the game against a single random opponent of similar skill, in order to measure the gamers' cognitive motor performance. Cognitive motor performance is how quickly your brain reacts to things happening around you, allowing you to act during tasks such as driving. The analysis revealed exactly when advancing age starts to take its toll on brain performance – at the tender age of 24 years. The results were published late last week in the journal PLOS ONE. Joe Thompson, lead author of the study, said he was surprised by how early the decline started and how big the age effect was, even among those in their 30s. "If you're 39, competing against a 24-year-old and you're both in the otherwise same level of skill," Thompson said, "the effect of age is expected to offset a great deal of your learning." Starcraft 2 is a popular strategy game, similar in concept to Risk, where players compete to build armies and conquer a science fictional world. Unlike Risk, however, players don't take turns. "Starcraft is like high-speed chess," said Thompson, a PhD student who plays the game himself. "You simply can make as many moves as you want, as fast as you can go." Players can't see the whole "world" at once, as they mine resources needed to build up their armies, as they attack their opponents, and as they defend against opponents' attacks, they need to quickly move their screen around from one part of the world to another. © CBC 2014

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Aggression
Link ID: 19495 - Posted: 04.16.2014

by Simon Makin Could drama workshops help children with autism-spectrum disorders? Results from a pilot study called Imagining Autism suggests this might be the case. The research involved 22 children aged between 7 and 12 and consisted of one 45-minute session every week for 10 weeks. During this time, groups of four children entered an enclosed themed environment, such as a forest or outer space. These environments were designed to engage all senses simultaneously, using lights, sounds, puppetry and interactive digital elements. Trained performers used improvisation techniques to encourage the children to engage creatively with the environment and each other, both physically and verbally. The hope was that the sessions would help develop the children's communication, social interaction, and imagination skills – the "triad of impairments" seen in autism. Children were assessed before the intervention, and again between two and six weeks after the sessions ended. As well as looking at whether behaviours used to diagnose autism changed after the drama sessions, the researchers also assessed emotion recognition, imitation, IQ and theory of mind – the ability to infer what others are thinking and feeling. Subjective ratings were also gathered from parents and teachers and follow-up assessments were conducted up to a year later. At the early assessments, all children showed some improvement. The most significant change was in the number of facial expressions recognised, a key communication skill. Nine children improved on this. Six children improved on their level of social interaction. The majority of these changes were also seen at the follow-up assessments. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 19494 - Posted: 04.16.2014

Scientists haven’t pinpointed a definitive cause for Alzheimer’s disease—a fatal brain disorder that robs people of their memory and cognitive abilities. But now researchers have uncovered an intriguing clue about why more women than men develop the condition. A particular gene variant, found in a quarter of the population and long known to raise people’s risk for the disease, seems less menacing in men, new research shows. The findings could have implications for potential gender-specific treatments, some Alzheimer’s investigators suggest. Though a small percentage of Alzheimer’s cases arise from genetic mutations that cause obvious disease before the age of 65, the vast majority of people who develop the condition do so later in life from undefined triggers, some thought to be genetic. In 1993, scientists found that people who inherit a gene variant called apolipoprotein E4 (APOE4) are more prone to the common form of Alzheimer’s that strikes in late life. There’s also a “risk-neutral” variant (APOE3) and a much rarer version of the gene (APOE2) that decreases a person’s risk for Alzheimer’s. Shortly thereafter, other research groups replicated the finding and some data hinted that APOE4 raises Alzheimer’s risk more in women than in men. Indeed, when scientists combed through a massive data set containing 5930 Alzheimer’s patients and 8607 dementia-free elderly from 40 independent studies, they reported in 1997 that females with the APOE4 variant were four times more likely to have Alzheimer’s compared with people with the more common, neutral form of the gene. However, in men, APOE4 seemed virtually harmless. “It was a pretty big effect,” says Michael Greicius, a neurologist at Stanford University Medical Center in California, of the analysis. Yet the findings didn’t create much of a stir at the time. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Alzheimers; Aggression
Link ID: 19490 - Posted: 04.15.2014

Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge and director of the Autism Research Center, replies: Your mother is correct that the scientific evidence points to the brain of people with autism and Asperger's syndrome as being different but not necessarily “disordered.” Studies have shown that the brain in autism develops differently, in terms of both structure and function, compared with more typical patterns of development, and that certain parts of the brain are larger or smaller in people who have autism compared with those who have a more typical brain. One structural difference resides in the brain's corpus callosum, which connects the right and left hemispheres. Most studies show that the corpus callosum is smaller in certain sections in people with autism, which can limit connectivity among brain regions and help explain why people with autism have difficulty integrating complex ideas. An example of a functional difference is in the activity of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which is typically active in tasks involving theory of mind—the ability to imagine other people's thoughts and feelings—but is underactive when people with autism perform such tasks. The brain of those with autism also shows advantages. When some people with this condition are asked to complete detail-oriented tasks, such as finding a target shape in a design, they are quicker and more accurate. Additionally, those with autism generally exhibit less activity in the posterior parietal cortex, involved in visual and spatial perception, which suggests that their brain is performing the task more efficiently. © 2014 Scientific American

Keyword: Autism; Aggression
Link ID: 19489 - Posted: 04.15.2014

By CATHERINE SAINT LOUIS Doctors are prescribing opioid painkillers to pregnant women in astonishing numbers, new research shows, despite the fact that risks to the developing fetus are largely unknown. Of 1.1 million pregnant women enrolled in Medicaid nationally, nearly 23 percent filled an opioid prescription in 2007, up from 18.5 percent in 2000, according to a study published last week in Obstetrics and Gynecology, the largest to date of opioid prescriptions among pregnant women. Medicaid covers the medical expenses for 45 percent of births in the United States. The lead author, Rishi J. Desai, a research fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said he had expected to “see some increase in trend, but not this magnitude.” “One in five women using opioids during pregnancy is definitely surprising,” he said. In February, a study of 500,000 privately insured women found that 14 percent were dispensed opioid painkillers at least once during pregnancy. From 2005 to 2011, the percentage of pregnant women prescribed opioids decreased slightly, but the figure exceeded 12 percent in any given year, according to Dr. Brian T. Bateman, an anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and his colleagues. Their research was published in Anesthesiology. Dr. Joshua A. Copel, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., said he was taken aback by the findings, which come even as conscientious mothers-to-be increasingly view pregnancy as a time to skip caffeine, sushi and even cold cuts. “To hear that there’s such a high use of narcotics in pregnancy when I see so many women who worry about a cup of coffee seems incongruous,” he said. In both studies, the opioids most prescribed during pregnancy were codeine and hydrocodone. Oxycodone was among the top four. Women usually took the drugs for a week or less; however, just over 2 percent of women in both studies took them for longer periods. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Aggression
Link ID: 19483 - Posted: 04.14.2014

|By Simon Makin Scientists have observed that reading ability scales with socioeconomic status. Yet music might help close the gap, according to Nina Kraus and her colleagues at Northwestern University. Kraus's team tested the auditory abilities of teenagers aged 14 or 15, grouped by socioeconomic status (as indexed by their mother's level of education, a commonly used surrogate measure). The researchers recorded the kids' brain waves with EEG as they listened to a repeated syllable against soft background sound and when they heard nothing. They found that children of mothers with a lower education had noisier, weaker and more variable neural activity in response to sound and greater activity in the absence of sound. The children also scored lower on tests of reading and working memory. Kraus thinks music training is worth investigating as a possible intervention for such auditory deficits. The brains of trained musicians differ from nonmusicians, and they also enjoy a range of auditory advantages, including better speech perception in noise, according to research from Kraus's laboratory. The researchers admit that this finding could be the result of preexisting differences that predispose some people to choose music as a career or hobby, but they point out that some experimental studies show that musical training, whether via one-on-one lessons or in group sessions, enhances people's response to speech. Most recently Kraus's group has shown that these effects may last. Kraus surveyed 44 adults aged 55 to 76 and found that four or more years of musical training in childhood was linked to faster neural responses to speech, even for the older adults who had not picked up an instrument for more than 40 years. © 2014 Scientific American

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Aggression
Link ID: 19480 - Posted: 04.14.2014

By Dominic Basulto The latest numbers from the Center for Disease Control showing a steep rise in the number of children with autism are so off the charts that it’s hard not to come to one of two conclusions: There’s something wrong in the way that we measure the data or there’s something extraordinary going on. 1 in 68 American children now has autism, up from 1 in 88 children just two years ago, an increase of 30 percent. A decade ago, one in 166 children were diagnosed as having autism. In 1975, it was 1 in 5000. Plot this as a graph using CDC data and you get a hockey stick curve showing exponential growth in autism over just the past decade. If you accept the first conclusion – that we’re simply not measuring autism correctly – there’s actually a fair amount of evidence to suggest that as much as 53 percent of the variation in data can be explained away by factors such as better diagnosis, better detection and better awareness. And it’s true that the very definition of “autism” continues to change to include a much wider description of symptoms along a spectrum, so it’s only natural to expect an increase in the number of cases if we’re making it easier to define people as having autism. There’s even a growing consensus in the scientific community that the current numbers are “no cause for alarm” and may actually underestimate the incidence of autism in the population, due to problems in collecting information in more rural areas and among some demographic groups. That still leaves approximately 50 percent of the rise in autism cases to explain through science. It won’t be easy. There may be as many as 60 different disorders that are associated with autism, and a multitude of factors at work, with most of them thought to be linked to changes in our environment or genetic factors resulting from increasing parental age. As a result, even the Chief Science Officer at Autism Speaks concedes that what causes autism remains a mystery. © 1996-2014 The Washington Post

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 19474 - Posted: 04.12.2014

Jyoti Madhusoodanan Growing up in a stressful social environment leaves lasting marks on young chromosomes, a study of African American boys has revealed. Telomeres, repetitive DNA sequences that protect the ends of chromosomes from fraying over time, are shorter in children from poor and unstable homes than in children from more nurturing families. When researchers examined the DNA of 40 boys from major US cities at age 9, they found that the telomeres of children from harsh home environments were 19% shorter than those of children from advantaged backgrounds. The length of telomeres is often considered to be a biomarker of chronic stress. The study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1, brings researchers closer to understanding how social conditions in childhood can influence long-term health, says Elissa Epel, a health psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the research. Participants’ DNA samples and socio-economic data were collected as part of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, an effort funded by the US National Institutes of Health to track nearly 5,000 children, the majority of whom were born to unmarried parents in large US cities in 1998–2000. Children's environments were rated on the basis of their mother's level of education; the ratio of a family’s income to needs; harsh parenting; and whether family structure was stable, says lead author Daniel Notterman, a molecular biologist at Pennsylvania State University in Hershey. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Stress; Aggression
Link ID: 19465 - Posted: 04.09.2014

By BENEDICT CAREY Therapists who specialize in autism often use a child’s own interests, toys or obsessions as a way to connect, and sometimes to reward effort and progress on social skills. The more eye contact a child makes, for example, the more play time he or she gets with those precious maps or stuffed animals. But now a group of scientists and the author of a new book are suggesting that those favorite activities could be harnessed in a deeper, more organic way. If a child is fascinated with animated characters like Thomas the Tank Engine, why not use those characters to prompt and reinforce social development? Millions of parents do this routinely, if not systematically, flopping down on the floor with a socially distant child to playact the characters themselves. “We individualize therapy to each child already, so if the child has an affinity for certain animated characters, it’s absolutely worth studying a therapy that incorporates those characters meaningfully,” said Kevin Pelphrey, director of the child neuroscience laboratory at Yale. He and several other researchers, including John D. E. Gabrieli of M.I.T., Simon Baron-Cohen of the University of Cambridge and Pamela Ventola of Yale, are proposing a study to test the approach. The idea came from Ron Suskind, a former Wall Street Journal reporter whose new book “Life, Animated” describes his family’s experience reaching their autistic son, Owen, through his fascination with Disney movies like “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast.” It was Mr. Suskind’s story that first referred to ‘“affinity therapy.” He approached the researchers to put together a clinical trial based on the idea that some children can develop social and emotional instincts through the characters they love. Experts familiar with his story say the theory behind the therapy is plausible, given what’s known from years of studying the effects of other approaches. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 19459 - Posted: 04.08.2014

By KENNETH CHANG This occasional column explores topics covered in Science Times 25 years ago to see what has changed — and what has not. The claim about babies was startling: A test administered to infants as young as 6 months could predict their score on an intelligence test years later, when they started school. “Why not test infants and find out which of them could take more in terms of stimulation?” Joseph F. Fagan III, the psychologist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland who developed the test, was quoted as saying in an article by Gina Kolata on April 4, 1989. “It’s not going to hurt anybody, that’s for sure.” In the test, the infant looks at a series of photographs — first a pair of identical faces, then the same face paired with one the baby hasn’t seen. The researchers measure how long the baby looks at the new face. “On the surface, it tests novelty preference,” said Douglas K. Detterman, a colleague of Dr. Fagan’s at Case Western. For reasons not quite understood, babies of below-average intelligence do not exhibit the same attraction to novelty. Dr. Fagan suggested that the test could be used to identify children with above-average intelligence in poorer families so they could be exposed to enrichment programs more readily available to wealthier families. But his primary motivation, said Cynthia R. Holland, his wife and longtime collaborator, was to look for babies at the other end of the intelligence curve, those who would fall behind as they grew up. “His hope was always was to identify early on, in the first year of life, kids who were at risk, cognitively, so we could focus our resources on them and help them out,” said Dr. Holland, a professor of psychology at Cuyahoga Community College. 25 YEARS LATER For the most part, the validity of the Fagan test holds up. Indeed, Dr. Fagan (who died last August) and Dr. Holland revisited infants they had tested in the 1980s, and found that the Fagan scores were predictive of the I.Q. and academic achievement two decades later when these babies turned 21. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Intelligence; Aggression
Link ID: 19456 - Posted: 04.08.2014

By NICHOLAS BAKALAR A new study adds to the evidence that the use of antidepressants during pregnancy is associated with a higher risk of premature birth, though many factors most likely play a role and the relationship is complex. Researchers reviewed data from 41 studies, some of which controlled for factors like smoking, alcohol or coffee drinking, weight gain during pregnancy, and other behavioral and health issues. They found no increase in the risk of early birth with the use of antidepressants during the first trimester, a 53 percent higher risk over all and a 96 percent higher risk with antidepressant use late in pregnancy. Depression itself is a risk factor for premature births, and a few studies tried to account for this by using, as a control, a group of women with a diagnosis of depression who did not take antidepressants during their pregnancy. Generally, researchers still found a higher, though diminished, risk from taking antidepressants. The review was published in March in PLOS One. Does this mean that all pregnant women should avoid these drugs? No, said the senior author, Dr. Adam C. Urato, an assistant professor of maternal-fetal medicine at Tufts University. Risks and benefits have to be balanced, he said. “It’s very complex, and depends on the severity of the disease,” Dr. Urato added. “The point is that we have to get the right information out so that we can let pregnant women make an informed decision.” © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Depression; Aggression
Link ID: 19454 - Posted: 04.08.2014

A high-resolution map of the human brain in utero is providing hints about the origins of brain disorders including schizophrenia and autism. The map shows where genes are turned on and off throughout the entire brain at about the midpoint of pregnancy, a time when critical structures are taking shape, researchers Wednesday in the journal Nature. "It's a pretty big leap," says , an investigator at the in Seattle who played a central role in creating the map. "Basically, there was no information of this sort prior to this project." Having a map like this is important because many psychiatric and behavioral problems appear to begin before birth, "even though they may not manifest until teenage years or even the early 20s," says , director of the . The human brain is often called the most complex object in the universe. Yet its basic architecture is created in just nine months, when it grows from a single cell to more than 80 billion cells organized in a way that will eventually let us think and feel and remember. "We're talking about a remarkable process," a process controlled by our genes, Lein says. So he and a large team of researchers decided to use genetic techniques to create a map that would help reveal this process. Funding came from the 2009 federal stimulus package. The massive effort required tens of thousands of brain tissue samples so small that they had to be cut out with a laser. Researchers used brain tissue from aborted fetuses, which the Obama administration has authorized over the objections of abortion opponents. ©2014 NPR

Keyword: Brain imaging; Aggression
Link ID: 19443 - Posted: 04.03.2014

by Bob Holmes People instinctively organise a new language according to a logical hierarchy, not simply by learning which words go together, as computer translation programs do. The finding may add further support to the notion that humans possess a "universal grammar", or innate capacity for language. The existence of a universal grammar has been in hot dispute among linguists ever since Noam Chomsky first proposed the idea half a century ago. If the theory is correct, this innate structure should leave some trace in the way people learn languages. To test the idea, Jennifer Culbertson, a linguist at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and her colleague David Adger of Queen Mary University of London, constructed an artificial "nanolanguage". They presented English-speaking volunteers with two-word phrases, such as "shoes blue" and "shoes two", which were supposed to belong to a new language somewhat like English. They then asked the volunteers to choose whether "shoes two blue" or "shoes blue two" would be the correct three-word phrase. In making this choice, the volunteers – who hadn't been exposed to any three-word phrases – would reveal their innate bias in language-learning. Would they rely on familiarity ("two" usually precedes "blue" in English), or would they follow a semantic hierarchy and put "blue" next to "shoe" (because it modifies the noun more tightly than "two", which merely counts how many)? © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Language; Aggression
Link ID: 19433 - Posted: 04.01.2014

by Aviva Rutkin Don't blame baby for trying to eat that Lego piece. Humans may have a brain circuit dedicated to grabbing stuff and putting it in our mouths, and it probably develops in the womb. Researchers and parents alike have long known that babies stick all manner of things in their mouths from very early on. Some fetuses even suck their thumbs. As putting something in the mouth seems advanced compared to the other, limited actions of newborns, Angela Sirigu of the Institute of Cognitive Sciences in Bron, France, and colleagues wondered whether the behaviour is encoded in the brain from birth. To investigate, they studied 26 people of different ages while they were undergoing brain surgery. The researchers found that they were able to make nine of the unconscious patients bring their hands up and open their mouths, just by stimulating a part of the brain we know is linked to those actions in non-human primates. Brain pudding Because this behaviour is encoded in the same region as in other primates, it may be there from birth or earlier, the researchers say. If it was learned, you would expect it to involve multiple brain areas, and those could vary between individuals. Newborn kangaroos are able to climb into their mother's pouch and baby wildebeests can run away from lions, but our babies appear helpless and have to learn most complex actions. The new work suggests that the way our brain develops is more like what happens in other animals than previously thought. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 19431 - Posted: 04.01.2014