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Nicola Davis Science correspondent If the taste of kale makes you screw up your face, you are not alone: researchers have observed foetuses pull a crying expression when exposed to the greens in the womb. While previous studies have suggested our food preferences may begin before birth and can be influenced by the mother’s diet, the team says the new research is the first to look directly at the response of unborn babies to different flavours. “[Previously researchers] just looked at what happens after birth in terms of what do [offspring] prefer, but actually seeing facial expressions of the foetus when they are getting hit by the bitter or by the non-bitter taste, that is something which is completely new,” said Prof Nadja Reissland, from Durham University, co-author of the research. Writing in the journal Psychological Science, the team noted that aromas from the mother’s diet were present in the amniotic fluid. Taste buds can detect taste-related chemicals from 14 weeks’ gestation, and odour molecules can be sensed from 24 weeks’ gestation. To delve into whether foetuses differentiate specific flavours, the team looked at ultrasound scans from almost 70 pregnant women, aged 18 to 40 from the north-east of England, who were split into two groups. One group was asked to take a capsule of powdered kale 20 minutes before an ultrasound scan, and the other was asked to take a capsule of powdered carrot. Vegetable consumption by the mothers did not differ between the kale and carrot group. The team also examined scans from 30 women, taken from an archive, who were not given any capsules. All the women were asked to refrain from eating anything else in the hour before their scans. The team then carried out a frame-by-frame analysis of the frequency of a host of different facial movements of the foetuses, including combinations that resembled laughing or crying. Overall, the researchers examined 180 scans from 99 foetuses, scanned at either 32 weeks, 36 weeks, or at both time points. © 2022 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 28493 - Posted: 09.28.2022

By Tess Joosse “Bird brain” insults be damned. The noggins of our flying friends are packed with neurons, and recent studies have shown birds can develop complex tools and even discriminate between paintings by Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso. But is this avian acumen a recent development, evolutionarily speaking, or does it trace back tens of millions of years? A remarkably preserved fossil unearthed in Brazil may hold some answers. The 80-million-year-old bird skull contains impressions of advanced brain structures, suggesting early birds were bright like modern ones. The preserved braincase, from a now-extinct bird lineage, is “exceptional … a big step forward,” says Matteo Fabbri, an evolutionary biologist at the Field Museum of Natural History who was not involved with the work. “This is the first time we have really good information regarding the brain of [this] group.” Birds began to evolve about 165 million to 150 million years ago from dinosaurs. Some of the earliest—whose ancestors were carnivorous icons such as Velociraptor—were the famous feathered Archaeopteryx. Over time, avians branched into a group called the enantiornithines and close cousins who became modern birds. Ranging from the size of hummingbirds to turkeys, enantiornithines took to the skies in the Mesozoic era beginning 130 million years ago. The creatures eventually spanned the globe before going extinct 66 million years ago from the same asteroid impact that killed off the dinosaurs. Their position between Archaeopteryx and living birds gives them a “magical place on the dino-bird family tree,” says Daniel Field, a paleontologist at the University of Cambridge and co-author of the new study. To reconstruct the brains of ancient birds, researchers need fossils that preserve the hollow space where a brain would sit: the braincase. But no enantiornithine skeletons have preserved that space—until the new find. © 2022 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Evolution
Link ID: 28492 - Posted: 09.28.2022

Terriline Porelle is puzzling over two mysteries. The first is: what’s plaguing her? For the past two years, the formerly healthy, active, 34-year-old resident of Cocagne, N.B. has been experiencing many strange and alarming symptoms, including muscle twitches and blurred vision, auditory hallucinations, brain fog and loss of balance and co-ordination. The second mystery is why health authorities no longer seem interested in finding out why she’s ill. “It’s like nobody’s really looking to see what’s going on and it doesn’t make any sense,” she said. Ms. Porelle is one of 48 people who were initially identified between late 2020 and May, 2021, as being part of a cluster of patients in New Brunswick who all had a mysterious brain illness, which the province referred to as a “potential neurological syndrome of unknown cause.” Doctors and researchers puzzled over the cases for months. Then, in a February report, the province announced that there was no mystery illness, and that its investigation into the matter had concluded. An independent oversight committee had found that the 48 patients were likely suffering from various previously known diseases that had simply been misdiagnosed, the report said. But some of the patients and their families say their suffering remains very real – and that it’s made worse by the fact that they’re no closer to getting answers about what’s causing it. The province’s report said neurologists on the oversight committee had provided potential alternative diagnoses for 41 of the 48 patients, including Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, post-concussion syndrome, chronic severe anxiety disorder and cancer. It recommended that patients contact their primary caregivers for referrals to further treatment, or that they seek help from a specialized clinic in Moncton called the Moncton Interdisciplinary Neurodegenerative Diseases (MIND) Clinic.

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 28491 - Posted: 09.28.2022

by Angie Voyles Askham / Brain connectivity patterns in people with autism and other neuropsychiatric conditions are more closely related to genetics than to phenotypic traits, according to two new studies. The findings highlight why a single brain biomarker for autism has remained elusive, the researchers say. The condition’s genetic heterogeneity has hampered the search for a shared brain signature: More than 100 genes have been identified as strongly linked to autism, and multiple copy number variations (CNVs) — deleted or duplicated stretches of genetic code — can increase a person’s likelihood of the condition. Autism also often overlaps with other conditions, such as schizophrenia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), making autism-specific markers difficult to disentangle. Common variants tied to autism overlap strongly with those linked to schizophrenia and high IQ, for example, whereas rare autism-linked variants track with low IQ. According to the new papers, however, autism’s genetic heterogeneity corresponds to similarly disparate maps of ‘functional connectivity’ — a measure of which brain areas activate in sync while the brain is at rest. “What we’re seeing is that these groups of variants have specific functional connectivity signatures,” says lead investigator Sébastien Jacquemont, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Montreal in Canada. The findings need to be replicated, says Aaron Alexander-Bloch, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who was not involved in the work, but they point to the importance of subgrouping study participants based on their underlying genetics. © 2022 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Autism; Brain imaging
Link ID: 28490 - Posted: 09.28.2022

By Hedda Hassel Mørch The nature of consciousness seems to be unique among scientific puzzles. Not only do neuroscientists have no fundamental explanation for how it arises from physical states of the brain, we are not even sure whether we ever will. Astronomers wonder what dark matter is, geologists seek the origins of life, and biologists try to understand cancer—all difficult problems, of course, yet at least we have some idea of how to go about investigating them and rough conceptions of what their solutions could look like. Our first-person experience, on the other hand, lies beyond the traditional methods of science. Following the philosopher David Chalmers, we call it the hard problem of consciousness. But perhaps consciousness is not uniquely troublesome. Going back to Gottfried Leibniz and Immanuel Kant, philosophers of science have struggled with a lesser known, but equally hard, problem of matter. What is physical matter in and of itself, behind the mathematical structure described by physics? This problem, too, seems to lie beyond the traditional methods of science, because all we can observe is what matter does, not what it is in itself—the “software” of the universe but not its ultimate “hardware.” On the surface, these problems seem entirely separate. But a closer look reveals that they might be deeply connected. Consciousness is a multifaceted phenomenon, but subjective experience is its most puzzling aspect. Our brains do not merely seem to gather and process information. They do not merely undergo biochemical processes. Rather, they create a vivid series of feelings and experiences, such as seeing red, feeling hungry, or being baffled about philosophy. There is something that it’s like to be you, and no one else can ever know that as directly as you do. © 2022 NautilusThink Inc, All rights reserved.

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 28489 - Posted: 09.24.2022

by Charles Q. Choi Infection during pregnancy may be associated with having an autistic child simply because mothers of autistic children are prone to infections, a new study finds. The results suggest that “common infections during pregnancy do not seem increase their children’s risk of autism,” says study investigator Martin Brynge, a psychiatrist and doctoral student of global public health at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. “Prevention of maternal infections would likely not affect the prevalence of autism in the population.” A great deal of previous research has linked maternal infection during pregnancy with autism and intellectual disability in children. Whether the former causes the latter, however, has remained uncertain. For instance, both autism and intellectual disability are linked with gene variants that may influence the immune system, so mothers of children with either condition may also just be more vulnerable to serious infections. The new study analyzed data from 549,967 children, including 267,995 girls, living in Stockholm County who were born between 1987 and 2010; about 34,000 of the children had been exposed to a maternal infection requiring specialized health care, according to data from Sweden’s National Patient Register and National Medical Birth Register. Of the exposed children, 3.3 percent have autism, compared with 2.5 percent of unexposed children — a 16 percent increase in the chance of autism. But maternal infection in the year before pregnancy was also linked with a 25 percent greater chance of autism. “Mothers who had an infection during pregnancy may not be comparable to those mothers without infections,” Brynge says. “There may be systematic differences at the group level.” © 2022 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Autism; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 28488 - Posted: 09.24.2022

By Ed Yong On March 25, 2020, Hannah Davis was texting with two friends when she realized that she couldn’t understand one of their messages. In hindsight, that was the first sign that she had COVID-19. It was also her first experience with the phenomenon known as “brain fog,” and the moment when her old life contracted into her current one. She once worked in artificial intelligence and analyzed complex systems without hesitation, but now “runs into a mental wall” when faced with tasks as simple as filling out forms. Her memory, once vivid, feels frayed and fleeting. Former mundanities—buying food, making meals, cleaning up—can be agonizingly difficult. Her inner world—what she calls “the extras of thinking, like daydreaming, making plans, imagining”—is gone. The fog “is so encompassing,” she told me, “it affects every area of my life.” For more than 900 days, while other long-COVID symptoms have waxed and waned, her brain fog has never really lifted. Of long COVID’s many possible symptoms, brain fog “is by far one of the most disabling and destructive,” Emma Ladds, a primary-care specialist from the University of Oxford, told me. It’s also among the most misunderstood. It wasn’t even included in the list of possible COVID symptoms when the coronavirus pandemic first began. But 20 to 30 percent of patients report brain fog three months after their initial infection, as do 65 to 85 percent of the long-haulers who stay sick for much longer. It can afflict people who were never ill enough to need a ventilator—or any hospital care. And it can affect young people in the prime of their mental lives. Long-haulers with brain fog say that it’s like none of the things that people—including many medical professionals—jeeringly compare it to. It is more profound than the clouded thinking that accompanies hangovers, stress, or fatigue. For Davis, it has been distinct from and worse than her experience with ADHD. It is not psychosomatic, and involves real changes to the structure and chemistry of the brain. It is not a mood disorder: “If anyone is saying that this is due to depression and anxiety, they have no basis for that, and data suggest it might be the other direction,” Joanna Hellmuth, a neurologist at UC San Francisco, told me. (c) 2022 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All Rights Reserved.

Keyword: Attention; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28487 - Posted: 09.21.2022

By Darren Incorvaia Songbirds get a lot of love for their dulcet tones, but drummers may start to steal some of that spotlight. Woodpeckers, which don’t sing but do drum on trees, have brain regions that are similar to those of songbirds, researchers report September 20 in PLOS Biology. The finding is surprising because songbirds use these regions to learn their songs at an early age, yet it’s not clear if woodpeckers learn their drum beats (SN: 9/16/21). Whether woodpeckers do or not, the result suggests a shared evolutionary origin for both singing and drumming. The ability to learn vocalizations by listening to them, just like humans do when learning to speak, is a rare trait in the animal kingdom. Vocal learners, such as songbirds, hummingbirds and parrots, have independently evolved certain clusters of nerve cells called nuclei in their forebrains that control the ability. Animals that don’t learn vocally are thought to lack these brain features. While it’s commonly assumed that other birds don’t have these nuclei, “there’s thousands of birds in the world,” says Matthew Fuxjager, a biologist at Brown University in Providence, R.I. “While we say these brain regions only exist in these small groups of species, nobody’s really looked in a lot of these other taxa.” Fuxjager and his colleagues examined the noggins of several birds that don’t learn vocally to check if they really did lack these brain nuclei. Using molecular probes, the team checked the bird brains for activity of a gene called parvalbumin, a known marker of the vocal learning nuclei. Many of the birds, including penguins and flamingos, came up short, but there was one exception — male and female woodpeckers, which had three spots in their brains with high parvalbumin activity. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Keyword: Animal Communication; Language
Link ID: 28486 - Posted: 09.21.2022

Michael Nolan Jellyfish, anemones and coral polyps, known collectively as cnidarians, have captured the imaginations of scientists across biological disciplines for centuries. Their radial symmetries and graceful, fluid movements lend them an undeniable appeal, but it’s their peculiar nervous systems that have drawn recent attention from neuroscientists. Unlike in most animals, whose neurons are gathered into bundles of nerves and larger structures like brains and ganglia, cnidarian neurons are distributed through their tissues in structures called nerve nets. This diffuse organization makes it possible to observe neural activity from many neurons simultaneously: Because neurons are spread in a thin layer, no neuron blocks an observer’s view of another. That means researchers can use techniques like calcium imaging to potentially capture the activity of a cnidarian’s entire nervous system, rather than a subset of neurons in the dense tangle of a mouse brain, for example. Neuroscientists are leveraging the accessibility of nerve nets to more deeply explore the properties of neural ensembles, groups of neurons that fire in a correlated fashion. Ensembles are a fundamental feature of the brain; they offer a simple example of functional structure in an animal’s nervous system and have become a popular target for systems neuroscientists because they combine population coding (how neural activity encodes information in populations of cells) and connectivity (how connections among neurons relate to population activity). Understanding how these groups form, how they coordinate patterns of neural activity, and how they drive behavior may reveal organizational principles also present in larger and more complicated nervous systems. © Simons Foundation Terms and Conditions Privacy Policy Image Credits

Keyword: Evolution
Link ID: 28485 - Posted: 09.21.2022

By Jim Robbins Tens of thousands of bar-tailed godwits are taking advantage of favorable winds this month and next for their annual migration from the mud flats and muskeg of southern Alaska, south across the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, to the beaches of New Zealand and eastern Australia. They are making their journey of more than 7,000 miles by flapping night and day, without stopping to eat, drink or rest. “The more I learn, the more amazing I find them,” said Theunis Piersma, a professor of global flyway ecology at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and an expert in the endurance physiology of migratory birds. “They are a total evolutionary success.” The godwit’s epic flight — the longest nonstop migration of a land bird in the world — lasts from eight to 10 days and nights through pounding rain, high winds and other perils. It is so extreme, and so far beyond what researchers knew about long-distance bird migration, that it has required new investigations. In a recent paper, a group of researchers said the arduous journeys challenge “underlying assumptions of bird physiology, orientation, and behavior,” and listed 11 questions posed by such migrations. Dr. Piersma called the pursuit of answers to these questions “the new ornithology.” The extraordinary nature of what bar-tailed and other migrating birds accomplish has been revealed in the last 15 years or so with improvements to tracking technology, which has given researchers the ability to follow individual birds in real time and in a detailed way along the full length of their journey. “You know where a bird is almost to the meter, you know how high it is, you know what it’s doing, you know its wing-beat frequency,” Dr. Piersma said. “It’s opened a whole new world.” The known distance record for a godwit migration is 13,000 kilometers, or nearly 8,080 miles. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Animal Migration; Sleep
Link ID: 28484 - Posted: 09.21.2022

ByDennis Normile After 5 years of planning and debate, China has finally launched its ambitious contribution to neuroscience, the China Brain Project (CBP). Budgeted at 5 billion yuan ($746 million) under the latest 5-year plan, the CBP will likely get additional money under future plans, putting it in the same league as the U.S. Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, which awarded $2.4 billion in grants through 2021, and the EU Human Brain Project, budgeted at $1.3 billion. The project “is really on the move,” says one of its architects, neuroscientist Mu-ming Poo, head of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’s (CAS’s) Institute of Neuroscience (ION). The details of the project remain murky. But China’s researchers “seem to be building on their strengths, which is great,” says neuroscientist Robert Desimone of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who collaborates with colleagues in China. The CBP focuses on three broad areas: the neural basis of cognitive functions, diagnosing and treating brain disorders, and brain-inspired computing. Monkey studies will play a key part in the research, and project leaders hope the virtual absence of animal rights activism in China will help lure talent from overseas. (Poo himself studied and worked in the United States for 40 years, including a decade at the University of California, Berkeley, and moved to China full-time in 2009.) Neuroscience was first identified as a priority in China’s 2016 Five-Year Plan, but soon became “a very contentious project,” says Denis Simon, a China science policy expert at Duke University. “There was hefty debate and discussion about how to choose projects, set priorities, and allocate funds,” Simon says. Deliberations dragged on until brain science was again designated as a priority field in the 2021 Five-Year Plan, adopted in March 2021. Funding for the CBP finally started to flow in December 2021, Poo says.

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 28483 - Posted: 09.21.2022

By Ted Alcorn Oregon is a drinker’s paradise. The state boasts more craft distilleries than Kentucky and is second only to California in the number of wineries. Some call Portland “beervana” for its bevy of breweries. But Oregon also has among the highest prevalence of problem drinking in the country. Last year, 2,153 residents died of causes attributed to alcohol, according to the Oregon Health Authority — more than twice the number of people killed by methamphetamines, heroin and fentanyl combined. Sonja Grove, a retiree in Portland whose adult son drank himself to death in April 2020, feels the toll is overlooked compared with those of other drugs. “Alcoholism has sort of taken a back seat.” In 2021, confronted by these conflicting trends, as the pandemic raged on, Oregon lawmakers made it easier to drink. They permanently legalized the sale of to-go cocktails, which the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States called a “lifeline,” and increased the number of cases that wineries could ship directly to consumers. Reginald Richardson, director of the state’s Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission, described the policies as incongruent. “We obviously want to create an environment that’s pro-business, that helps the state to develop, but we’ve got this other thing,” he said. That disconnect is typical: Before Covid lockdowns, no state permitted bars or restaurants to deliver liquor to customers at home, according to a trade association. Now, 28 have relaxed the rules. In contrast, policies that experts consider most effective at curbing excessive drinking have been ignored. For example, even as alcohol-related deaths soared to record highs in the last few years, alcohol taxes have fallen to the lowest rates in a generation. Americans drank more during the pandemic, but national data on the change have only recently become available. Alcohol tax revenues collected by the U.S. Treasury Department rose by eight percent in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, 2021, compared with the previous year, and remain well above pre-pandemic levels. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 28482 - Posted: 09.17.2022

By Rodrigo Pérez Ortega There’s clear evidence that racial discrimination negatively affects the health of people of color over the course of their lives. It’s associated with depression, anxiety, and psychological stress; it increases blood pressure; and it has been shown to weaken the immune system. However, few studies have linked single discriminatory events to immediate health effects. Now, data from a first-of-its-kind study suggest a racist attack could raise a person’s stress biomarkers almost immediately. “The big question mark, for me, has always been, how does this happen? What’s the black box that’s in the middle of discrimination, stress, and health disparities?” says Tiffany Yip, a developmental psychologist at Fordham University who was not involved with the study. “I think that this paper addresses that mechanistic question.” For the proof-of-concept study, Soohyun Nam at Yale University’s School of Nursing and her team collaborated with Black churches and their communities to recruit 12 Black people between the ages of 30 and 55 living in the northeastern United States. After accounting for the participants’ baseline stress levels, the research team adapted standardized survey questions about discrimination and microaggressions—such as whether they believed they had been mistaken for a service worker because of their race—and asked participants to share any occurrences of these experiences through a smartphone app. The method, known as ecological momentary assessment (EMA), has previously been used to study physical activity and behavior—such as alcohol intake reduction or smoking frequency. But this is one of the first studies correlating stress biomarkers and racist experiences using this precise monitoring technique. Researchers also asked the participants to describe their mood five times a day over the course of a week using the same phone app. To measure their biological response, participants spat into a tube four times a day over 4 days and froze the samples until research staff collected them. The researchers then had the samples analyzed in the lab to measure levels of cortisol, a hormone released during emotional distress, and alpha amylase, an enzyme that breaks down sugars and is secreted in stressful situations.

Keyword: Stress; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 28481 - Posted: 09.17.2022

By Jackie Rocheleau After experimenting on a hen, his dog, his goldfish, and himself, dentist William Morton was ready. On Oct. 16, 1846, he hurried to the Massachusetts General Hospital surgical theater for what would be the first successful public test of a general anesthetic. His concoction of sulfuric ether and oil from an orange (just for the fragrance) knocked a young man unconscious while a surgeon cut a tumor from his neck. To the onlooking students and clinicians, it was like a miracle. Some alchemical reaction between the ether and the man’s brain allowed him to slip into a state akin to light sleep, to undergo what should have been a painful surgery with little discomfort, and then to return to himself with only a hazy memory of the experience. General anesthesia redefined surgery and medicine, but over a century later it still carries significant risks. Too much sedation can lead to neurocognitive disorders and may even shorten lifespan; too little can lead to traumatic and painful wakefulness during surgery. So far, scientists have learned that, generally speaking, anesthetic drugs render people unconscious by altering how parts of the brain communicate. But they still don’t fully understand why. Although anesthesia works primarily on the brain, anesthesiologists do not regularly monitor the brain when they put patients under. And it is only in the past decade that neuroscientists interested in altered states of consciousness have begun taking advantage of anesthesia as a research tool. “It’s the central irony” of anesthesiology, says George Mashour, a University of Michigan neuroanesthesiologist, whose work entails keeping patients unconscious during neurosurgery and providing appropriate pain management. Mashour is one of a small set of clinicians and scientists trying to change that. They are increasingly bringing the tools of neuroscience into the operating room to track the brain activity of patients, and testing out anesthesia on healthy study participants. These pioneers aim to learn how to more safely anesthetize their patients, tailoring the dose to individual patients and adjusting during surgery. They also want to better understand what governs the transitions between states of consciousness and even hope to crack the code of coma. © 2022 NautilusThink Inc, All rights reserved.

Keyword: Sleep; Consciousness
Link ID: 28480 - Posted: 09.17.2022

By Mark Johnson A study using the electronic health records of more than 6 million Americans over age 65 found those who had covid-19 ran a greater risk of receiving a new diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease within a year. The study, led by researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, does not show that covid-19 causes Alzheimer’s, but adds to a growing body of work suggesting links between the two. The results suggest researchers should be tracking older patients who recover from covid to see if they go on to show signs of memory loss, declining brain function or Alzheimer’s disease. The study found that for every 1,000 seniors with covid-19, seven will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s within a year, slightly above the five-in-a-thousand diagnosis rate for seniors who did not have covid. “We know that covid can affect the brain, but I don’t think anyone had looked at new diagnoses of Alzheimer’s,” said Pamela Davis, one of the study’s co-authors and a research professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Colleague Rong Xu said she had expected to see some increase among seniors sickened by covid, but was surprised “by the extent of the increase and how rapidly it occurred.” The study, though “important and useful” was “limited,” said Gabriel de Erausquin, director of the Laboratory of Brain Development, Modulation and Repair at University of Texas Health San Antonio, who was not involved in the research. He cautioned that a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is not necessarily confirmation of the disease. Doctors sometimes diagnose Alzheimer’s based on changes in behavior, or responses to a memory test. These are considered less accurate than imaging or spinal fluid tests that measure two types of proteins, beta-amyloid and phosphorylated tau, which accumulate abnormally in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Brain scans that look for structural changes, such as the shrinking of certain regions, are another more accurate indicator. © 1996-2022 The Washington Post

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 28479 - Posted: 09.17.2022

by Nora Bradford A well-studied brain response to sound, called the M100, appears earlier in life in autistic children than in their non-autistic peers, according to a new longitudinal study. The finding suggests that the auditory cortex in children with autism matures unusually quickly, a growth pattern seen previously in other brain regions. “It’s a demonstration that when we look for autism markers in the brain, they can be very age-specific,” says lead investigator J. Christopher Edgar, associate professor of radiology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. For that reason, longitudinal studies such as this one — in which Edgar and his colleagues assessed children at up to three different ages — are essential, he adds. “If the two populations being studied have different rates of brain maturation, then the pattern of findings changes across time.” At the time of the first magnetoencephalography (MEG) scan, when the children were 6 to 9 years old, those with autism were more likely to have an M100 response to a barely audible tone in the right hemisphere than non-autistic children were. But this difference disappeared in the next two visits, presumably because the M100 response typically appears during early adolescence. By contrast, the M50 response, which occurs throughout life, beginning in utero, showed no significant difference between the two groups at any visit. The team also evaluated ‘phase locking,’ a measure of how similar a participant’s neural activity is from scan to scan within a certain frequency band. Autistic participants demonstrated more mature phase-locking patterns at the first visit, which then diminished at the later two visits. © 2022 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Autism; Hearing
Link ID: 28478 - Posted: 09.17.2022

Sara Reardon More than 500,000 years ago, the ancestors of Neanderthals and modern humans were migrating around the world when a pivotal genetic mutation caused some of their brains to improve suddenly. This mutation, researchers report in Science1, drastically increased the number of brain cells in the hominins that preceded modern humans, probably giving them a cognitive advantage over their Neanderthal cousins. “This is a surprisingly important gene,” says Arnold Kriegstein, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco. However, he expects that it will turn out to be one of many genetic tweaks that gave humans an evolutionary advantage over other hominins. “I think it sheds a whole new light on human evolution.” When researchers first reported the sequence of a complete Neanderthal genome in 20142, they identified 96 amino acids — the building blocks that make up proteins — that differ between Neanderthals and modern humans, as well as some other genetic tweaks. Scientists have been studying this list to learn which of these changes helped modern humans to outcompete Neanderthals and other hominins. Cognitive advantage To neuroscientists Anneline Pinson and Wieland Huttner at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, one gene stood out. TKTL1 encodes a protein that is made when a fetus’s brain is first developing. A mutation in the human version changed one amino acid, resulting in a protein that is different from those found in hominin ancestors, Neanderthals and non-human primates. The researchers suspected that this protein could increase the proliferation of neural progenitor cells, which become neurons, as the brain develops, specifically in an area called the neocortex — a region involved in cognitive function. This, they reasoned, could contribute to modern humans’ cognitive advantage. © 2022 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Evolution; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 28477 - Posted: 09.14.2022

By Erin Garcia de Jesús Human trash can be a cockatoo’s treasure. In Sydney, the birds have learned how to open garbage bins and toss trash around in the streets as they hunt for food scraps. People are now fighting back. Bricks, pool noodles, spikes, shoes and sticks are just some of the tools Sydney residents use to keep sulphur-crested cockatoos (Cacatua galerita) from opening trash bins, researchers report September 12 in Current Biology. The goal is to stop the birds from lifting the lid while the container is upright but still allowing the lid to flop open when a trash bin is tilted to empty its contents. This interspecies battle could be a case of what’s called an innovation arms race, says Barbara Klump, a behavioral ecologist at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Radolfzell, Germany. When cockatoos learn how to flip trash can lids, people change their behavior, using things like bricks to weigh down lids, to protect their trash from being flung about (SN Explores: 10/26/21). “That’s usually a low-level protection and then the cockatoos figure out how to defeat that,” Klump says. That’s when people beef up their efforts, and the cycle continues. Researchers are closely watching this escalation to see what the birds — and humans — do next. With the right method, the cockatoos might fly by and keep hunting for a different target. Or they might learn how to get around it. In the study, Klump and colleagues inspected more than 3,000 bins across four Sydney suburbs where cockatoos invade trash to note whether and how people were protecting their garbage. Observations coupled with an online survey showed that people living on the same street are more likely to use similar deterrents, and those efforts escalate over time. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Evolution
Link ID: 28476 - Posted: 09.14.2022

James Brunton Badenoch Monkeypox’s effect on the skin – the disfiguring rashes – and the flu-like symptoms have been well described, but few have investigated the neurological and psychiatric problems the virus might cause. There are historic reports of neurological complications in people infected with the related smallpox virus and in people vaccinated against smallpox, which contains the related vaccinia virus. So my colleagues and I wanted to know whether monkeypox causes similar problems. We looked at all the evidence from before the current monkeypox pandemic of neurological or psychiatric problems in people with a monkeypox infection. The results are published in the journal eClinicalMedicine. A small but noticeable proportion of people (2% to 3%) with monkeypox became very unwell and developed serious neurological problems, including seizure and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain that can cause long-term disability). We also found that confusion occurred in a similar number of people. It’s important to note, though, that these figures are based on a few studies with few participants. Besides the severe and rare brain problems, we found evidence of a broader group of people with monkeypox who had more common neurological symptoms including headache, muscle ache and fatigue. From looking at the studies, it was unclear how severe these symptoms were and how long they lasted. It was also unclear how many people with monkeypox had psychiatric problems - such as anxiety and depression - as few studies looked into it. Of those that did, low mood was frequently reported.. © 2010–2022, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Epilepsy; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28475 - Posted: 09.14.2022

Jon Hamilton In some families, Alzheimer's disease seems inevitable. "Your grandmother has it, your mom has it, your uncle has it, your aunts have it, your cousin has it. I always assumed that I would have it," says Karen Douthitt, 57. "It was always in our peripheral vision," says Karen's sister June Ward, 61. "Our own mother started having symptoms at age 62, so it has been a part of our life." Nearly a decade ago, Karen, June, and an older sister, Susie Gilliam, 64, set out to learn why Alzheimer's was affecting so many family members. Since then, each sister has found out whether she carries a rare gene mutation that makes Alzheimer's inescapable. And all three have found ways to help scientists trying to develop treatments for the disease. I met Karen and June in 2015, at the first-ever conference for families with a particular type of genetic mutation in which Alzheimer's often appears in middle age. The annual conference is sponsored by the Alzheimer's Association and the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer's Network Trials Unit, a research program run by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Karen and June had come to Washington, D.C., for the family conference because of something they had just learned about a cousin on their mother's side. The cousin had developed Alzheimer's in her 50s. And genetic tests showed that she carried a rare, inherited gene mutation called presenilin 1. It's one of three mutations that typically cause Alzheimer's to appear in middle age. The three gene mutations responsible for early Alzheimer's are unlike a better known gene called APOE4, which merely increases the likelihood somewhat that a person will develop Alzheimer's – and usually at age 65 or older. In contrast, the early-onset mutations, including presenilin 1, make it almost certain an individual will develop the disease, and usually before age 60. Each child of a parent who has the presenilin 1 mutation has a 50% chance of inheriting it. © 2022 npr

Keyword: Alzheimers; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 28474 - Posted: 09.14.2022