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By Ashley P. Taylor Neurodegenerative diseases are often associated with aging. To learn what happens within the aging brain and potentially gain information relevant to human health, researchers examined gene-expression patterns in postmortem brain samples. Overall, the researchers found, gene expression of glial cells changed more with age than did that of neurons. These gene-expression changes were most significant in the hippocampus and substantia nigra, regions damaged in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, respectively, according to the study published today (January 10) in Cell Reports. “Typically we have concentrated on neurons for studies of dementia, as they are the cells involved in brain processing and memories. [This] study demonstrates that glia are likely to be equally important,” study coauthors Jernej Ule and Rickie Patani of the Francis Crick Institute and University College London wrote in an email to The Scientist. “The authors’ effort in this comprehensive work is a ‘genomic tour de force,’ showing that, overall, non-neuronal cells undergo gene expression changes at a larger scale than previously thought in aging,” Andras Lakatos, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge, U.K., who was not involved in the study, wrote in an email. “This finding puts glial cells again at the center stage of functional importance in neurodegenerative conditions in which aging carries a proven risk.” © 1986-2017 The Scientist

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: 23088 - Posted: 01.12.2017

By Michael Price As we age, we get progressively better at recognizing and remembering someone’s face, eventually reaching peak proficiency at about 30 years old. A new study suggests that’s because brain tissue in a region dedicated to facial recognition continues to grow and develop throughout childhood and into adulthood, a process known as proliferation. The discovery may help scientists better understand the social evolution of our species, as speedy recollection of faces let our ancestors know at a glance whether to run, woo, or fight. The results are surprising because most scientists have assumed that brain development throughout one’s life depends almost exclusively on “synaptic pruning,” or the weeding out of unnecessary connections between neurons, says Brad Duchaine, a psychologist at Dartmouth College who was not involved with the study. “I expect these findings will lead to much greater interest in the role of proliferation in neural development.” Ten years ago, Kalanit Grill-Spector, a psychologist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, first noticed that several parts of the brain’s visual cortex, including a segment known as the fusiform gyrus that’s known to be involved in facial recognition, appeared to develop at different rates after birth. To get more detailed information on how the size of certain brain regions changes over time, she turned to a recently developed brain imaging technology known as quantitative magnetic resonance imaging (qMRI). The technique tracks how long it takes for protons, excited by the imaging machine’s strong magnetic field, to calm down. Like a top spinning on a crowded table, these protons will slow down more quickly if they’re surrounded by a lot of molecules—a proxy for measuring volume. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 23063 - Posted: 01.06.2017

By Alice Klein A tumour containing a miniature brain has been found growing on the ovary of a 16-year-old girl in Japan. The 10-centimetre-wide tumour was discovered when the girl had surgery to remove her appendix. When doctors cut the tumour out, they found clumps of greasy, matted hair inside, and a 3-centimetre-wide brain-like structure covered by a thin plate of skull bone. Closer analysis revealed that it was a smaller version of a cerebellum – which usually sits underneath the brain’s two hemispheres. A mass on one side resembled a brain stem – the structure that normally joins to the spinal cord. About one-fifth of ovarian tumours contain foreign tissue, including hair, teeth, cartilage, fat and muscle. These tumours, which are normally benign, are named teratomas after the Greek word “teras”, meaning monster. Although the cause of ovarian teratomas is unknown, one theory is that they arise when immature egg cells turn rogue, producing different body parts. Brain cells are often found in ovarian teratomas, but it is extremely unusual for them to organise themselves into proper brain-like structures, says Masayuki Shintaku at the Shiga Medical Centre for Adults in Japan, who studied the tumour. Angelique Riepsamen at the University of New South Wales in Australia, agrees. “Neural elements similar to that of the central nervous system are frequently reported in ovarian teratomas, but structures resembling the adult brain are rare.” © 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: 23059 - Posted: 01.06.2017

Carl Zimmer Leah H. Somerville, a Harvard neuroscientist, sometimes finds herself in front of an audience of judges. They come to hear her speak about how the brain develops. It’s a subject on which many legal questions depend. How old does someone have to be to be sentenced to death? When should someone get to vote? Can an 18-year-old give informed consent? Scientists like Dr. Somerville have learned a great deal in recent years. But the complex picture that’s emerging lacks the bright lines that policy makers would like. “Oftentimes, the very first question I get at the end of a presentation is, ‘O.K., that’s all very nice, but when is the brain finished? When is it done developing?’” Dr. Somerville said. “And I give a very nonsatisfying answer.” Dr. Somerville laid out the conundrum in detail in a commentary published on Wednesday in the journal Neuron. The human brain reaches its adult volume by age 10, but the neurons that make it up continue to change for years after that. The connections between neighboring neurons get pruned back, as new links emerge between more widely separated areas of the brain. Eventually this reshaping slows, a sign that the brain is maturing. But it happens at different rates in different parts of the brain. The pruning in the occipital lobe, at the back of the brain, tapers off by age 20. In the frontal lobe, in the front of the brain, new links are still forming at age 30, if not beyond. “It challenges the notion of what ‘done’ really means,” Dr. Somerville said. As the anatomy of the brain changes, its activity changes as well. In a child’s brain, neighboring regions tend to work together. By adulthood, distant regions start acting in concert. Neuroscientists have speculated that this long-distance harmony lets the adult brain work more efficiently and process more information. © 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: 23008 - Posted: 12.22.2016

Older folks tend not to engage as much in risky behavior as teenagers and young adults do. You might call that wisdom or learned experience. But this also may be a result of older brains having less gray matter in a certain spot, according to a new study. Researchers found that adults who were less inclined to take risks had less gray matter in the right posterior parietal cortex, which is involved in decisions that entail risk. In the study, the researchers asked volunteers ranging in age from 18 to 88 to play a game involving risk. The participants were allowed to choose between a guaranteed gain, such as pocketing $5, or an uncertain gain, such as a lottery to earn between $5 and $120 with varying chances of winning or losing. As the researchers expected, those participants who chose the guaranteed gain — that is, no risk — tended to be older than those who opted for the lottery. It wasn’t a perfect correlation, but it was close. One could call this old-age wisdom. Yet when the researchers analyzed brain scans of these volunteers obtained through an MRI technique called voxel-based morphometry (VBM), they found that lower levels of gray matter, even more than age, best accounted for risk aversion. These results suggest that the brain changes that occur in healthy aging people may be behind more decision-making patterns and preferences than previously thought, the researchers noted in their findings, published Dec. 13 in the journal Nature Communications. © 1996-2016 The Washington Post

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: 22993 - Posted: 12.17.2016

By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr. and PAM BELLUCK Babies born to Zika-infected mothers are highly likely to have brain damage, even in the absence of obvious abnormalities like small heads, and the virus may go on replicating in their brains well after birth, according to three studies published Tuesday. Many types of brain damage were seen in the studies, including dead spots and empty spaces in the brain, cataracts and congenital deafness. There were, however, large differences among these studies in how likely it was that a child would be hurt by the infection. One study, published by The Journal of the American Medical Association, assessed 442 pregnancies registered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between January and September in the continental United States and Hawaii, most of them in returning travelers. That report found that 6 percent had birth defects. None of those birth defects occurred in infants born to women infected in the second or third trimester. By contrast, in a study of 125 Zika-infected women in Rio de Janeiro done by Brazilian and American scientists and released by The New England Journal of Medicine, almost half of pregnancies had “adverse outcomes,” ranging from fetal deaths to serious brain damage. Of the 117 infants born alive, 42 percent had “grossly abnormal” brain scans or physical symptoms, the authors said. Other studies from Colombia, Brazil and French Polynesia have suggested that brain damage rates are between 1 and 13 percent. But each one uses different measurements of brain damage and different definitions of which mothers to include, so the question remains unanswered. © 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: 22990 - Posted: 12.15.2016

By MARC SANTORA At least four babies have been born in New York City with Zika-related brain developmental symptoms since July, the city’s health department said on Wednesday, bringing the total number of such births to five. The numbers were announced in an alert the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene sent to doctors, urging them to remain vigilant and to continue to warn pregnant women and sexually active women of reproductive age not using a reliable form of birth control against traveling to places where the virus is spreading. It was a reminder that while the threat of the virus may have eased in many places around the world, it still poses a danger and its consequences are likely to be felt for some time. Zika is primarily transmitted by mosquitoes but can also be passed on through sex. In most cases, the virus causes only mild illness, but the danger to women pregnant or trying to become pregnant is much greater, because of the impact the disease can have on fetal development. A small percentage of women with the virus have given birth to infants with a abnormally small heads and stunted brain growth — a condition known as microcephaly. As of Friday, about 8,000 New Yorkers have been tested for Zika and 962 have tested positive, including 325 pregnant women, according to the health department. All the cases were associated with travel; six involved sexual transmission by a partner who had been to the areas hit hardest by the Zika epidemic. © 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: 22958 - Posted: 12.07.2016

Erika Check Hayden Physicians may soon have a lot more help in treating newborns. Neuroscientists and physicians have embarked on what they hope will be a revolution in treatments to prevent brain damage in newborn babies. As many as 800,000 babies die each year when blood and oxygen stop flowing to the brain around the time of birth. And thousands develop brain damage that causes long-lasting mental or physical disabilities, such as cerebral palsy. Physicians have few tools to prevent this, but they are optimistic that clinical trials now under way will change things. The trials were sparked by neuroscientists’ realization in the 1990s that some brain injuries can be repaired. That discovery spurred a flurry of basic research that is just now coming to fruition in the clinic. In January, a US study will start to test whether the hormone erythropoietin, or EPO, can prevent brain damage hours after birth when combined with hypothermia, in which babies are cooled to 33.5 °C. A trial in Australia is already testing this treatment. Physicians in countries including the United States, China and Switzerland are testing EPO in premature babies, as well as other treatments, such as melatonin, xenon, argon, magnesium, allopurinol and cord blood in full-term babies. “The world has really changed for us,” says neurologist Janet Soul at Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts. Therapeutic hypothermia was the first success: clinical trials over the past decade have shown that it decreases the risk of death and of major brain-development disorders by as much as 60%. It is now standard treatment for babies in developed countries whose brains are deprived of blood and oxygen during birth. © 2016 Macmillan Publishers 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: 22935 - Posted: 11.30.2016

By Dwayne Godwin, Jorge Cham © 2016 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: 22914 - Posted: 11.26.2016

By PAM BELLUCK It is the news that doctors and families in the heart of Zika territory had feared: Some babies not born with the unusually small heads that are the most severe hallmark of brain damage as a result of the virus have developed the condition, called microcephaly, as they have grown older. The findings were reported in a study of 13 babies in Brazil that was published Tuesday in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. At birth, none of the babies had heads small enough to receive a diagnosis of microcephaly, but months later, 11 of them did. For most of those babies, brain scans soon after birth showed significant abnormalities, and researchers found that as the babies aged, their brains did not grow or develop enough for their age and body size. The new study echoes another published this fall, in which three babies were found to have microcephaly later in their first year. As they closed in on their first birthdays, many of the babies also had some of the other developmental and medical problems caused by Zika infection, a range of disabilities now being called congenital Zika syndrome. The impairments resemble characteristics of cerebral palsy and include epileptic seizures, muscle and joint problems and difficulties swallowing food. “There are some areas of great deficiency in the babies,” said Dr. Cynthia Moore, the director of the division of congenital and developmental disorders for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and an author of the new study. “They certainly are going to have a lot of impairment.” Dr. Deborah Levine, a professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School who has studied Zika but was not involved in either study, said there would most likely be other waves of children whose brains were affected by the Zika infection, but not severely enough to be noticed in their first year. © 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: 22903 - Posted: 11.23.2016

Laura Sanders Harmful factors circulating in old blood may be partly responsible for the mental decline that can come with age, a small study in mice suggests. Irina Conboy of the University of California, Berkeley and colleagues devised a new way to mingle blood in two mice that didn’t involve stitching their bodies together, as in previous experiments (SN: 5/31/14, p. 8). Instead, researchers used a microfluidic device to shuttle blood, a process that precisely controlled the timing and amount of blood transferred between the mice. The method, reported online November 22 in Nature Communications, allows more precise tests of blood’s influence on aging, the researchers believe. Old mice benefited in some ways from infusions of young blood, experiments with four young-old pairs of mice revealed. With young blood around, old muscles were better able to recover after an injury. And young blood seemed to improve old livers in some tests. But young blood didn’t seem to help one measure of brain health. After transfusions of young blood, old mice still had lower numbers of newborn nerve cells in the hippocampus, a brain structure important for learning and memory. What’s more, old blood reduced the number of newborn nerve cells in young mice. This damage happened quickly, after just one blood exchange, the researchers found. The results suggest that old blood contains components that harm brain cells, an insight that makes scientists eager to identify those factors. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016

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: 22898 - Posted: 11.23.2016

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.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 9: Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 22876 - Posted: 11.16.2016

Anesthesia during early childhood surgery poses little risk for intelligence and academics later on, the largest study of its kind suggests. The results were found in research on nearly 200,000 Swedish teens. School grades were only marginally lower in kids who'd had one or more common surgeries with anesthesia before age 4, compared with those who'd had no anesthesia during those early years. Whether the results apply to sicker children who have riskier surgeries with anesthesia is not known. But the researchers from Sweden's Karolinska Institute and doctors elsewhere called the new results reassuring, given experiments in young animals linking anesthesia drugs with brain damage. Previous studies of children have been relatively small, with conflicting results. The new findings, published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, don't provide a definitive answer and other research is ongoing. The study authors and other doctors say the harms from postponing surgery must be considered when evaluating any potential risks from anesthesia in young children. The most common procedures in the study were hernia repairs; ear, nose or throat surgeries; and abdominal operations. The researchers say the operations likely lasted an hour or less. The study did not include children with other serious health problems and those who had more complex or risky operations, including brain, heart and cancer surgeries. The research involved about 33,500 teens who'd had surgery before age 4 and nearly 160,000 who did not. ©2016 CBC/Radio-Canada.

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: 22842 - Posted: 11.08.2016

By Marian Vidal-Fernandez, Ana Nuevo-Chiquero, The title of this article might trigger self-satisfied smiles among first-borns, and some concerns among the rest of us. Many studies show children born earlier in the family enjoy better wages and more education, but until now we didn’t really know why. Our recently published findings are the first to suggest advantages of first born siblings start very early in life—around zero to three years old! We observe parents changing their behaviour as new children are born, and offering less cognitive stimulation to children of higher birth order. It now seems clear that for those born and raised in high-income countries such as the United States, the UK and Norway, earlier-born children enjoy higher wages and education as adults—known as the “birth order effect”. Comparing two siblings, the greater the difference in their birth order, the greater the relative benefit to the older child. However, to date we’ve had no evidence that explains where such differences come from. We know it’s not an effect of family size, because the effect remains when comparing siblings within the same family and families with the same number of children. While it makes sense that parents earn more money and gain experience as they get older and have more children, they also need to divide their economic resources and attention among any children that arrive after the first born. We wondered where in childhood these differences began, and what the cause or causes might be. © 2016 Scientific American,

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: 22835 - Posted: 11.05.2016

Tina Hesman Saey VANCOUVER — Zika virus’s tricks for interfering with human brain cell development may also be the virus’s undoing. Zika infection interferes with DNA replication and repair machinery and also prevents production of some proteins needed for proper brain growth, geneticist Feiran Zhang of Emory University in Atlanta reported October 19 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics. Levels of a protein called p53, which helps control cell growth and death, shot up by 80 percent in human brain cells infected with the Asian Zika virus strain responsible for the Zika epidemic in the Americas, Zhang said. The lab dish results are also reported in the Oct. 14 Nucleic Acids Research. Increased levels of the protein stop developing brain cells from growing and may cause the cells to commit suicide. A drug that inactivates p53 stopped brain cells from dying, Zhang said. Such p53 inhibitors could help protect developing brains in babies infected with Zika. But researchers would need to be careful giving such drugs because too little p53 can lead to cancer. Zika also makes small RNA molecules that interfere with production of proteins needed for DNA replication, cell growth and brain development, Zhang said. In particular, a small viral RNA called vsRNA-21 reduced the amount of microcephalin 1 protein made in human brain cells in lab dishes. The researchers confirmed the results in mouse experiments. That protein is needed for brain growth; not enough leads to the small heads seen in babies with microcephaly. Inhibitors of the viral RNAs might also be used in therapies, Zhang suggested. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016

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: 22770 - Posted: 10.20.2016

By MARC SANTORA The morning after Christine Grounds gave birth to her son Nicholas, she awoke to find a neurologist examining her baby. It was summer 2006, and Nicholas was her first child. There had been no indication that anything was wrong during her pregnancy, but it was soon clear that there was a problem. “Did you know he has microcephaly?” she remembers the doctor asking matter-of-factly. Confused, she replied, “What is microcephaly?” This was before the Zika virus had spread from Brazil across South and Central America and the Caribbean and reached Florida. It was before doctors had determined that the virus could cause microcephaly, a birth defect in which children have malformed heads and severely stunted brain development. And it was before people had seen the devastating pictures of scores of newborns with the condition in Brazil and elsewhere that shocked the world this year. Ms. Grounds, a 45-year-old psychotherapist, and her husband, Jon Mir, who live in Manhattan, had no idea what microcephaly would mean for them or for their child. “We had a diagnosis but no prognosis,” recalled Mr. Mir, 44, who works in finance. The doctors could offer few answers. “We don’t know if he will walk,” the couple recalled being told. “We don’t know if he will talk. He might be in a vegetative state.” But the truth was, even the doctors did not know. As mosquito season draws to a close in much of the country, taking with it the major risk of new Zika infections, there are still more than 2,600 pregnant women who have tested positive for the virus in the United States and its territories, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They, and thousands more around the world, face the prospect of giving birth to a child with microcephaly. © 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: 22766 - Posted: 10.19.2016

Erin Ross The teenage brain has been characterized as a risk-taking machine, looking for quick rewards and thrills instead of acting responsibly. But these behaviors could actually make teens better than adults at certain kinds of learning. "In neuroscience, we tend to think that if healthy brains act in a certain way, there should be a reason for it," says Juliet Davidow, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University in the Affective Neuroscience and Development Lab and the lead author of the study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Neuron. But scientists and the public often focus on the negatives of teen behavior, so she and her colleagues set out to test the hypothesis that teenagers' drive for rewards, and the risk-taking that comes from it, exist for a reason. When it comes to what drives reward-seeking in teens, fingers have always been pointed at the striatum, a lobster-claw-shape structure in the brain. When something surprising and good happens — say, you find $20 on the street — your body produces the pleasure-related hormone dopamine, and the striatum responds. "Research shows that the teenage striatum is very active," says Davidow. This suggests that teens are hard-wired to seek immediate rewards. But, she adds, it's also shown that their prefrontal cortex, which helps with impulse control, isn't fully developed. Combined, these two things have given teens their risky rep. But the striatum isn't just involved in reward-seeking. It's also involved in learning from rewards, explains Daphna Shohamy, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute at Columbia University who worked on the study. She wanted to see if teenagers would be better at this type of learning than adults would. © 2016 npr

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: 22738 - Posted: 10.10.2016

Richard A. Friedman There’s a reason adults don’t pick up Japanese or learn how to kite surf. It’s ridiculously hard. In stark contrast, young people can learn the most difficult things relatively easily. Polynomials, Chinese, skateboarding — no problem! Neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to form new neural connections and be influenced by the environment — is greatest in childhood and adolescence, when the brain is still a work in progress. But this window of opportunity is finite. Eventually it slams shut. Or so we thought. Until recently, the conventional wisdom within the fields of neuroscience and psychiatry has been that development is a one-way street, and once a person has passed through his formative years, experiences and abilities are very hard, if not impossible, to change. What if we could turn back the clock in the brain and recapture its earlier plasticity? This possibility is the focus of recent research in animals and humans. The basic idea is that during critical periods of brain development, the neural circuits that help give rise to mental states and behaviors are being sculpted and are particularly sensitive to the effects of experience. If we can understand what starts and stops these periods, perhaps we can restart them. Think of the brain’s sensitive periods as blown glass: The molten glass is very malleable, but you have a relatively brief time before it cools and becomes crystalline. Put it back into the furnace, and it can once again change shape. © 2016 The New York Times Company

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: 22737 - Posted: 10.10.2016

By Anna Azvolinsky _The human cerebral cortex experiences a burst of growth late in fetal development thanks to the expansion and migration of progenitor cells that ultimately form excitatory neurons. For a fully functional brain, in addition to excitatory neurons, inhibitory ones (called interneurons) are also necessary. Yet scientists have not been able to account for the increase in inhibitory neurons that occurs after birth. Now, in a paper published today (October 6) in Science, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), have shown that there is a reserve of young neurons that continue to migrate and integrate into the frontal lobes of infants. “It was thought previously that addition of new neurons to the human cortex [mostly] happens only during fetal development. This new study shows that young neurons continue to migrate on a large scale into the cerebral cortex of infants,” Benedikt Berninger, who studies brain development at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany, and was not involved in the work, wrote in an email to The Scientist. “This implies that experience during the first few months could affect this migration and thereby contribute to brain plasticity.” Aside from the migration of neurons into the olfactory bulb in infants, “this is the first time anyone has been able to catch neurons in the act of moving into the cortex,” said New York University neuroscientist Gord Fishell who penned an accompanying editorial but was not involved in the work. “We kept expecting these interneurons to be new cells but, in fact, they are immature ones hanging around and taking the long road from the bottom of the brain to the cortex.” © 1986-2016 The Scientist

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: 22734 - Posted: 10.08.2016

Hannah Devlin Science correspondent Scientists have found the most definitive evidence yet that some people are destined to age quicker and die younger than others - regardless of their lifestyle. The findings could explain the seemingly random and unfair way that death is sometimes dealt out, and raise the intriguing future possibility of being able to extend the natural human lifespan. “You get people who are vegan, sleep 10 hours a day, have a low-stress job, and still end up dying young,” said Steve Horvath, a biostatistician who led the research at the University of California, Los Angeles. “We’ve shown some people have a faster innate ageing rate.” A higher biological age, regardless of actual age, was consistently linked to an earlier death, the study found. For the 5% of the population who age fastest, this translated to a roughly 50% greater than average risk of death at any age. Intriguingly, the biological changes linked to ageing are potentially reversible, raising the prospect of future treatments that could arrest the ageing process and extend the human lifespan. “The great hope is that we find anti-ageing interventions that would slow your innate ageing rate,” said Horvath. “This is an important milestone to realising this dream.” Horvath’s ageing “clock” relies on measuring subtle chemical changes, in which methyl compounds attach or detach from the genome without altering the underlying code of our DNA. © 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited

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: 22708 - Posted: 09.29.2016