Chapter 13. Memory and Learning

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by Lauren Schenkman Autism is thought to arise during prenatal development, when the brain is spinning its web of excitatory and inhibitory neurons, the main signal-generating cell types in the cerebral cortex. Though this wiring process remains mysterious, one thing seemed certain after two decades of studies in mice: Although both neuron types arise from radial glia, excitatory neurons crop up in the developing cortex, whereas inhibitory neurons, also known as interneurons, originate outside of the cortex and then later migrate into it. Not so in the human brain, according to a study published in December in Nature. A team of researchers led by Tomasz Nowakowski, assistant professor of anatomy at the University of California, San Francisco, used a new viral barcoding method to trace the descendants of radial glial cells from the developing human cortex and found that these progenitor cells can give rise to both excitatory neurons and interneurons. “This is really a paradigm-shifting finding,” Nowakowski says. “It sets up a new framework for studying, understanding and interpreting experimental models of autism mutations.” Nowakowski spoke with Spectrum about the discovery’s implications for studying the origins of autism in the developing brain. Spectrum: Why did you investigate this topic? Tomasz Nowakowski: My lab and I are interested in understanding the early neurodevelopmental events that give rise to the incredible complexity of the human cerebral cortex. We know especially little about the early stages of human development, primarily because a lot of our knowledge comes from mouse models. As we’ve begun to realize over the past decade, the processes that underlie development of the brain in humans and mice can be quite different. © 2022 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Autism; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 28165 - Posted: 01.22.2022

Veronique Greenwood In the moment between reading a phone number and punching it into your phone, you may find that the digits have mysteriously gone astray — even if you’ve seared the first ones into your memory, the last ones may still blur unaccountably. Was the 6 before the 8 or after it? Are you sure? Maintaining such scraps of information long enough to act on them draws on an ability called visual working memory. For years, scientists have debated whether working memory has space for only a few items at a time, or if it just has limited room for detail: Perhaps our mind’s capacity is spread across either a few crystal-clear recollections or a multitude of more dubious fragments. The uncertainty in working memory may be linked to a surprising way that the brain monitors and uses ambiguity, according to a recent paper in Neuron from neuroscience researchers at New York University. Using machine learning to analyze brain scans of people engaged in a memory task, they found that signals encoded an estimate of what people thought they saw — and the statistical distribution of the noise in the signals encoded the uncertainty of the memory. The uncertainty of your perceptions may be part of what your brain is representing in its recollections. And this sense of the uncertainties may help the brain make better decisions about how to use its memories. The findings suggests that “the brain is using that noise,” said Clayton Curtis, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at NYU and an author of the new paper. All Rights Reserved © 2022

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28163 - Posted: 01.19.2022

Nicola Davis It’s a cold winter’s day, and I’m standing in a room watching my dog stare fixedly at two flower pots. I’m about to get an answer to a burning question: is my puppy a clever girl? Dogs have been our companions for millennia, domesticated sometime between 15,000 and 30,000 years ago. And the bond endures: according to the latest figures from the Pet Food Manufacturers Association 33% of households in the UK have a dog. But as well as fulfilling roles from Covid detection to lovable family rogue, scientists investigating how dogs think, express themselves and communicate with humans say dogs can also teach us about ourselves. And so I am here at the dog cognition centre at the University of Portsmouth with Calisto, the flat-coated retriever, and a pocket full of frankfurter sausage to find out how. We begin with a task superficially reminiscent of the cup and ballgame favoured by small-time conmen. Amy West, a PhD student at the centre, places two flower pots a few metres in front of Calisto, and appears to pop something under each. However, only one actually contains a tasty morsel. West points at the pot under which the sausage lurks, and I drop Calisto’s lead. The puppy makes a beeline for the correct pot. But according to Dr Juliane Kaminski, reader in comparative psychology at the University of Portsmouth, this was not unexpected. “A chimpanzee is our closest living relative – they ignore gestures like these coming from humans entirely,” she says. “But dogs don’t.” © 2022 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Evolution
Link ID: 28162 - Posted: 01.19.2022

By Jane E. Brody Many people aren’t overly concerned when an octogenarian occasionally forgets the best route to a favorite store, can’t remember a friend’s name or dents the car while trying to parallel park on a crowded city street. Even healthy brains work less efficiently with age, and memory, sensory perceptions and physical abilities become less reliable. But what if the person is not in their 80s but in their 30s, 40s or 50s and forgets the way home from their own street corner? That’s far more concerning. While most of the 5.3 million Americans who are living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia are over 65, some 200,000 are younger than 65 and develop serious memory and thinking problems far earlier in life than expected. “Young-onset dementia is a particularly disheartening diagnosis because it affects individuals in the prime years,” Dr. David S. Knopman, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., wrote in a July 2021 editorial in JAMA Neurology. Many of the afflicted are in their 40s and 50s, midcareer, hardly ready to retire and perhaps still raising a family. Dementia in a younger adult is especially traumatic and challenging for families to acknowledge, and many practicing physicians fail to recognize it or even suspect it may be an underlying cause of symptoms. “Complaints about brain fog in young patients are very common and are mostly benign,” Dr. Knopman told me. “It’s hard to know when they’re not attributable to stress, depression or anxiety or the result of normal aging. Even neurologists infrequently see patients with young-onset dementia.” Yet recent studies indicate that the problem is far more common than most doctors realize. Worldwide, as many as 3.9 million people younger than 65 may be affected, a Dutch analysis of 74 studies indicated. The study, published in JAMA Neurology in September, found that for every 100,000 people aged 30 to 64, 119 had early dementia. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 28161 - Posted: 01.19.2022

Sophie Fessl Mice raised in an enriched environment are better able to adapt and change than mice raised in standard cages, but why they show this higher brain plasticity has not been known. Now, a study published January 11 in Cell Reports finds that the environment could act indirectly: living in enriched environments changes the animals’ gut microbiota, which appears to modulate plasticity. The study “provides very interesting new insights into possible beneficial effects of environmental enrichment on the brain that might act via the gut,” writes Anthony Hannan, a neuroscientist at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health in Australia who was not involved in the study, in an email to The Scientist. “This new study has implications for how we might understand the beneficial effects of environmental enrichment, and its relevance to cognitive training and physical activity interventions in humans.” In previous studies, mice raised in what scientists call an enriched environment—one in which they have more opportunities to explore, interact with others, and receive sensory stimulation than they would in standard laboratory enclosures—have been better able to modify their neuronal circuits in response to external stimuli than mice raised in smaller, plainer cages. Paola Tognini, a neuroscientist at the University of Pisa and lead author of the new study, writes in an email to The Scientist that she “wondered if endogenous factors (signals coming from inside our body instead of the external world), such as the signals coming from the intestine, could also influence brain plasticity.” © 1986–2022 The Scientist.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Obesity
Link ID: 28159 - Posted: 01.19.2022

By Azeen Ghorayshi An upsurge in teenagers requesting hormones or surgeries to better align their bodies with their gender identities has ignited a debate among doctors over when to provide these treatments. An international group of experts focused on transgender health last month released a draft of new guidelines, the gold standard of the field that informs what insurers will reimburse for care. Many doctors and activists praised the 350-page document, which was updated for the first time in nearly a decade, for including transgender people in its drafting and for removing language requiring adults to have psychological assessments before getting access to hormone therapy. But the guidelines take a more cautious stance on teens. A new chapter dedicated to adolescents says that they must undergo mental health assessments and must have questioned their gender identity for “several years” before receiving drugs or surgeries. Experts in transgender health are divided on these adolescent recommendations, reflecting a fraught debate over how to weigh conflicting risks for young people, who typically can’t give full legal consent until they are 18 and who may be in emotional distress or more vulnerable to peer influence than adults are. Some of the drug regimens bring long-term risks, such as irreversible fertility loss. And in some cases, thought to be quite rare, transgender people later “detransition” to the gender they were assigned at birth. Given these risks, as well as the increasing number of adolescents seeking these treatments, some clinicians say that teens need more psychological assessment than adults do. “They absolutely have to be treated differently,” said Laura Edwards-Leeper, a child clinical psychologist in Beaverton, Ore., who works with transgender adolescents. Dr. Edwards-Leeper was one of seven authors of the new adolescent chapter, but the organization that publishes the guidelines, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, did not authorize her to comment publicly on the draft’s proposed wording. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 28156 - Posted: 01.15.2022

Melinda Wenner Moyer Like many paediatricians, Dani Dumitriu braced herself for the impact of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus when it first surged in her wards. She was relieved when most newborn babies at her hospital who had been exposed to COVID-19 seemed to do just fine. Knowledge of the effects of Zika and other viruses that can cause birth defects meant that doctors were looking out for problems. But hints of a more subtle and insidious trend followed close behind. Dumitriu and her team at the NewYork–Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in New York City had more than two years of data on infant development — since late 2017, they had been analysing the communication and motor skills of babies up to six months old. Dumitriu thought it would be interesting to compare the results from babies born before and during the pandemic. She asked her colleague Morgan Firestein, a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University in New York City, to assess whether there were neurodevelopmental differences between the two groups. A few days later, Firestein called Dumitriu in a panic. “She was like, ‘We’re in a crisis, I don’t know what to do, because we not only have an effect of a pandemic, but it’s a significant one,’” Dumitriu recalled. She was up most of that night, poring over the data. The infants born during the pandemic scored lower, on average, on tests of gross motor, fine motor and communication skills compared with those born before it (both groups were assessed by their parents using an established questionnaire)1. It didn’t matter whether their birth parent had been infected with the virus or not; there seemed to be something about the environment of the pandemic itself. Dumitriu was stunned. “We were like, oh, my God,” she recalled. “We’re talking about hundreds of millions of babies.” Although children have generally fared well when infected with SARS-CoV-2, preliminary research suggests that pandemic-related stress during pregnancy could be negatively affecting fetal brain development in some children. Moreover, frazzled parents and carers might be interacting differently or less with their young children in ways that could affect a child’s physical and mental abilities.

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28152 - Posted: 01.12.2022

By Lisa Sanders, M.D. The mother stood in the baggage-claim area of the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, waiting for her 37-year-old son, who had just flown in from North Carolina. The carousel was nearly empty by the time she caught sight of him. She was shocked by how sick he looked. His face was pale and thin, his hair and clothes rumpled as if he felt too awful to care. Most surprising of all: He was being rolled toward her in a wheelchair. “I had some trouble with the stairs,” he explained. He thanked the attendant and then struggled to get to his feet. He didn’t make it. Before he got more than a few inches off the seat, his arms and then his legs began to shake and wobble, and he fell heavily back into the chair. His mother collected his bag and pushed him out to where her husband was waiting in the car. On the drive home, the young man struggled to explain what was going on. He had always considered himself to be pretty strong and healthy, but these past few weeks had been rough. It started in his legs. He felt wobbly. When he walked, his hips, legs and especially his feet felt as if they might not be able to hold him up. He saw his physician assistant about it — he worried that it was caused by the cholesterol-lowering medication he had started taking — but the P.A. assured him it wasn’t. He was running a few times a week, but he had to stop because his legs were done well before the run was. And he didn’t feel as sharp as he used to be. His brain seemed foggy and slow. Then this morning he had trouble climbing the stairs to the plane. That was scary. The guy behind him helped by holding up his backpack, but his feet felt like dead weights. He had to use his arms to help get his body up high enough to take each step. Once on the plane, he supported himself on the headrests to get to his assigned seat. They offered the wheelchair when he arrived in Buffalo, and he gratefully accepted. His mother tentatively asked if he thought he should see a doctor. She knew he hated it when she tried to tell him what to do. He had flown up to see a football game with her ex-husband, his father, and a hockey game with his stepbrother. If he didn’t feel any better after that, he conceded, it would be time to see a doctor. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Movement Disorders; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 28150 - Posted: 01.12.2022

Don Arnold All memory storage devices, from your brain to the RAM in your computer, store information by changing their physical qualities. Over 130 years ago, pioneering neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal first suggested that the brain stores information by rearranging the connections, or synapses, between neurons. Since then, neuroscientists have attempted to understand the physical changes associated with memory formation. But visualizing and mapping synapses is challenging to do. For one, synapses are very small and tightly packed together. They’re roughly 10 billion times smaller than the smallest object a standard clinical MRI can visualize. Furthermore, there are approximately 1 billion synapses in the mouse brains researchers often use to study brain function, and they’re all the same opaque to translucent color as the tissue surrounding them. A new imaging technique my colleagues and I developed, however, has allowed us to map synapses during memory formation. We found that the process of forming new memories changes how brain cells are connected to one another. While some areas of the brain create more connections, others lose them. Mapping new memories in fish Previously, researchers focused on recording the electrical signals produced by neurons. While these studies have confirmed that neurons change their response to particular stimuli after a memory is formed, they couldn’t pinpoint what drives those changes. © 2010–2022, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28149 - Posted: 01.12.2022

By Maria Temming It might seem like a fish needs a car like — well, like a fish needs a bicycle. But a new experiment suggests that fish actually make pretty good drivers. In the experiment, several goldfish learned to drive what is essentially the opposite of a submarine — a tank of water on wheels — to destinations in a room. That these fish could maneuver on land suggests that fishes’ understanding of space and navigation is not limited to their natural environment — and perhaps has something in common with landlubber animals’ internal sense of direction, researchers report in the Feb. 15 Behavioural Brain Research. Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva, Israel taught six goldfish to steer a motorized water tank. The fishmobile was equipped with a camera that continually tracked a fish driver’s position and orientation inside the tank. Whenever the fish swam near one of the tank’s walls, facing outward, the vehicle trundled off in that direction. This goldfish knows how to use its wheels. Successfully navigating in a tank on land suggests that the animals understand space and direction in a way that lets them explore even in unfamiliar habitats. Fish were schooled on how to drive during about a dozen 30-minute sessions. The researchers trained each fish to drive from the center of a small room toward a pink board on one wall by giving the fish a treat whenever it reached the wall. During their first sessions, the fish averaged about 2.5 successful trips to the target. During their final sessions, fish averaged about 17.5 successful trips. By the end of driver’s ed, the animals also took faster, more direct routes to their goal. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28148 - Posted: 01.12.2022

by Peter Hess Of all the brain chemistry that autism researchers study, few molecules have garnered as much attention as the so-called ‘social hormone,’ oxytocin. Some autistic children appear to have low blood levels of oxytocin, which has led several teams to test oxytocin delivered intranasally as an autism therapy. So far, though, such clinical trials have yielded inconsistent results. Here we explain what scientists know so far about oxytocin’s connection to autism. What does oxytocin do in the brain and body? Oxytocin serves multiple purposes, such as promoting trust between people, moderating our response to threats, and supporting lactation and mother-child bonding. The hormone is produced primarily in the hypothalamus, a brain region that mediates basic bodily functions, including hunger, thirst and body temperature. Oxytocin-producing neurons in the hypothalamus project into other parts of the brain, such as the nucleus accumbens, where the hormone regulates social-reward learning. In the brain’s sensory system, including the olfactory bulb, oxytocin seems to help balance excitatory and inhibitory signals, improving social-information processing, at least in rats. In the amygdala, oxytocin appears to help dull threat responses to negative social information and foster social recognition. The pituitary gland controls the release of oxytocin into the bloodstream. Blood oxytocin is crucial to start uterine muscle contractions during childbirth. It also supports lactation by facilitating the milk letdown reflex, stimulating the flow of milk into the nipple. © 2022 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Autism
Link ID: 28143 - Posted: 01.08.2022

Leonard Mlodinow Charles Darwin created the most successful theory in the history of biology: the theory of evolution. He was also responsible for another grand theory: the theory of emotion, which dominated his field for more than a century. That theory was dead wrong. The most important tenet of his theory was that the mind consists of two competing forces, the rational and the emotional. He believed emotions played a constructive role in the lives of non-human animals, but in humans emotions were a vestige whose usefulness had been largely superseded by the evolution of reason. We now know that, on the contrary, emotions enhance our process of reasoning and aid our decision-making. In fact, we can’t make decisions, or even think, without being influenced by our emotions. Consider a pioneering 2010 study in which researchers analysed the work of 118 professional traders in stocks, bonds and derivatives at four investment banks. Some were highly successful, but many were not. The researchers’ goal was to understand what differentiated the two groups. Their conclusion? They had different attitudes toward the role of emotion in their job. The relatively less successful traders for the most part denied that emotion played a significant role. They tried to suppress their emotions, while at the same time denying that emotions had an effect on their decision-making. The most successful traders, in contrast, had a different attitude. They showed a great willingness to reflect on their emotion-driven behaviour. They recognised that emotion and good decision-making were inextricably linked. Accepting that emotions were necessary for high performance, they “tended to reflect critically about the origin of their intuitions and the role of emotion”. © 2021 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Emotions; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28136 - Posted: 01.05.2022

By Abdulrahman Olagunju How does our brain know that “this” follows “that”? Two people meet, fall in love and live happily ever after—or sometimes not. The sequencing of events that takes place in our head—with one thing coming after another—may have something to do with so-called time cells recently discovered in the human hippocampus. The research provides evidence for how our brain knows the start and end of memories despite time gaps in the middle. As these studies continue, the work could lead to strategies for memory restoration or enhancement. The research has focused on “episodic memory,” the ability to remember the “what, where and when” of a past experience, such as the recollection of what you did when you woke up today. It is part of an ongoing effort to identify how the organ creates such memories. A team led by Leila Reddy, a neuroscience researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, sought to understand how human neurons in the hippocampus represent temporal information during a sequence of learning steps to demystify the functioning of time cells in the brain. In a study published this summer in the Journal of Neuroscience, Reddy and her colleagues found that, to organize distinct moments of experience, human time cells fire at successive moments during each task. The study provided further confirmation that time cells reside in the hippocampus, a key memory processing center. They switch on as events unfold, providing a record of the flow of time in an experience. “These neurons could play an important role in how memories are represented in the brain,” Reddy says. “Understanding the mechanisms for encoding time and memory will be an important area of research.” © 2021 Scientific American

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Attention
Link ID: 28133 - Posted: 12.31.2021

by Anna Goshua A variety of traits, including developmental delay and intellectual disability, characterize people with mutations in the autism-linked gene MYT1L, according to a new study. The gene encodes a transcription factor important for cells that make myelin, which insulates nerve cells and is deficient in some forms of autism. The work, published 8 November in Human Genetics, represents the most detailed study of the traits associated with MYT1L mutations to date. “We wanted to gather more cases to bring a clearer clinical and molecular picture of the condition for lab scientists, clinicians and also for patients and families,” says study investigator Juliette Coursimault, a physician-researcher in the genetics department at Rouen University Hospital in France. She and her co-researchers described 62 people, whereas previous literature included only 12 cases. The new characterization will “benefit clinicians’ diagnosis and treatment strategies when a patient with MYT1L mutation arrives in their clinic,” says Brady Maher, a lead investigator at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, who was not part of the study. The researchers identified and reviewed data for 22 people with MYT1L mutations who had been described in the academic literature, and collected clinical and molecular data from an additional 40 people, aged 1 to 34 years old, with likely or confirmed pathogenic variants of MYT1L. They recruited the participants through Rouen University Hospital and data-sharing networks such as GeneMatcher, which connects clinicians and researchers. © 2021 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Autism; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 28122 - Posted: 12.22.2021

Mir Jalil Razavi Weiying Dai The human brain has been called the most complex object in the known universe. And with good reason: It has around 86 billion neurons and several hundred thousand miles of axon fibers connecting them. Unsurprisingly, the process of brain folding that results in the brain’s characteristic bumps and grooves is also highly complex. Despite decades of speculation and research, the underlying mechanism behind this process remains poorly understood. As biomechanics and computer science researchers, we have spent several years studying the mechanics of brain folding and ways to visualize and map the brain, respectively. Figuring out this complexity may help researchers better diagnose and treat developmental brain disorders such as lissencephaly, or smooth brain, and epilepsy. Because many neurological disorders emerge at the early stages of development, understanding how brain folding works can provide useful insights into normal and pathological brain function. The mechanics of brain folding The brain is made of two layers. The outer layer, called the cerebral cortex, is composed of folded gray matter made up of small blood vessels and the spherical cell bodies of billions of neurons. The inner layer is composed of white matter, consisting mostly of the neurons’ elongated tails, called myelinated axons. When a story fascinates you, remember: Your donations make it possible Illustration of cross section of brain showing axonal pathways transitioning from gray matter into white matter. In recent years, researchers have shown that mechanics, or the forces that objects exert on one another, play an important role in the growth and folding of the brain. © 2010–2021, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 28119 - Posted: 12.18.2021

Rafael Yuste Michael Levin In the middle of his landmark book On the Origin of Species, Darwin had a crisis of faith. In a bout of honesty, he wrote, “To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I confess, absurd in the highest degree.” While scientists are still working out the details of how the eye evolved, we are also still stuck on the question of how intelligence emerges in biology. How can a biological system ever generate coherent and goal-oriented behavior from the bottom up when there is no external designer? In fact, intelligence—a purposeful response to available information, often anticipating the future—is not restricted to the minds of some privileged species. It is distributed throughout biology, at many different spatial and temporal scales. There are not just intelligent people, mammals, birds and cephalopods. Intelligent, purposeful problem-solving behavior can be found in parts of all living things: single cells and tissues, individual neurons and networks of neurons, viruses, ribosomes and RNA fragments, down to motor proteins and molecular networks. Arguably, understanding the origin of intelligence is the central problem in biology—one that is still wide open. In this piece, we argue that progress in developmental biology and neuroscience is now providing a promising path to show how the architecture of modular systems underlies evolutionary and organismal intelligence. © 2021 Scientific American

Keyword: Evolution; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 28118 - Posted: 12.18.2021

by Anna Goshua Researchers have identified hundreds of genes that may contribute to autism, but these genes can’t fully account for the condition’s traits. Studies from the past decade implicate an additional layer of ‘epigenetic’ complexity: chemical tags called methyl groups laid on top of a person’s genetic code. Enzymes that are mutated in some people with autism or related conditions attach the chemical tags to DNA. And that pattern of methyl marks across the genome can influence which genes are active or inactive at any given time. Much remains to be understood about this process, called DNA methylation. Here we describe how and when methylation happens and what researchers know about its relationship to autism. What is methylation? Methylation is the process by which enzymes called methyltransferases deposit methyl chemical groups onto DNA. The presence of these tags usually turns off nearby genes. The complete set of such modifications to the genome over a person’s lifetime is known as the methylome. Most methyl tags are deposited onto the DNA nucleotide called cytosine (C) whenever it occurs next to the nucleotide guanine (G). This CpG methylation begins during gestation and can change across the lifespan. Tags are also sometimes added to cytosines followed by other nucleotides, however. High levels of non-CpG methylation in the brain may be critical for neuron development. 2021 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Autism; Epigenetics
Link ID: 28115 - Posted: 12.15.2021

Mitch Leslie Medicine so far has nothing to offer that clearly prevents Alzheimer’s disease, although keeping your weight down, exercising regularly, and inheriting certain protective genes can lower your risk. Now, a study has identified another, unexpected source of protection: clonal hematopoiesis, a blood cell imbalance best known as a risk factor for cancer and heart disease. “Clonal hematopoiesis has been associated with so many bad outcomes that it is surprising that it is protective in this situation,” says cardiovascular biologist Kenneth Walsh of the University of Virginia, who wasn’t connected to the study, reported on 12 December at the American Society of Hematology meeting in Atlanta. But Walsh says the work is convincing and “will have to be reckoned with and explained.” He and other researchers caution that the discovery doesn’t offer any immediate opportunities for treating or preventing Alzheimer’s disease. Given the negative health effects of clonal hematopoiesis, inducing it in healthy people is a nonstarter. Still, the finding has a provocative implication: that cells from the bloodstream are restocking the brain’s immune cells, perhaps bolstering its ability to clear out toxic debris. Charles Darwin probably never imagined that natural selection unfolds in our bone marrow. But clonal hematopoiesis results from competition among the 50,000 to 200,000 stem cells that dwell there and divide to produce all our red and white blood cells. Over the years these stem cells accrue mutations, some of which result in a “fitter” cell whose progeny, known collectively as a clone, can soon outnumber their counterparts. In some people with clonal hematopoiesis, the offspring of a single mutated stem cell account for more than half of the blood cells in the body. © 2021 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 28114 - Posted: 12.15.2021

By Pam Belluck What if something in the blood of an athlete could boost the brainpower of someone who doesn’t or can’t exercise? Could a protein that gets amplified when people exercise help stave off symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other memory disorders? That’s the tantalizing prospect raised by a new study in which researchers injected sedentary mice with blood from mice that ran for miles on exercise wheels, and found that the sedentary mice then did better on tests of learning and memory. The study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, also found that the type of brain inflammation involved in Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders was reduced in sedentary mice after they received their athletic counterparts’ blood. “We’re seeing an increasing number of studies where proteins from outside the brain that are made when you exercise get into the brain and are helpful for improving brain health, or even improving cognition and disease,” said Rudolph Tanzi, a professor of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He led a 2018 study that found that exercise helped the brains of mice engineered to have a version of Alzheimer’s. The most promising outcome would be if exercise-generated proteins can become the basis for treatments, experts said. The study, led by researchers at Stanford School of Medicine, found that one protein — clusterin, produced in the liver and in heart muscle cells — seemed to account for most of the anti-inflammatory effects. But several experts noted that recent studies have found benefits from other proteins. They also said more needs to be learned about clusterin, which plays a role in many diseases, including cancer, and may have negative effects in early stages of Alzheimer’s before brain inflammation becomes dominant. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 28108 - Posted: 12.11.2021

Sofia Moutinho When Thomas Edison hit a wall with his inventions, he would nap in an armchair while holding a steel ball. As he started to fall asleep and his muscles relaxed, the ball would strike the floor, waking him with insights into his problems. Or so the story goes. Now, more than 100 years later, scientists have repeated the trick in a lab, revealing that the famous inventor was on to something. People following his recipe tripled their chances of solving a math problem. The trick was to wake up in the transition between sleep and wakefulness, just before deep sleep. “It is a wonderful study,” says Ken Paller, a cognitive neuroscientist at Northwestern University who was not part of the research. Prior work has shown that passing through deep sleep stages helps with creativity, he notes, but this is the first to explore in detail the sleep-onset period and its role in problem-solving. In this transitional period, we are not quite awake, but also not deeply asleep. It can be as short as a minute and occurs right when we start to doze off. Our muscles relax, and we have dreamlike visions or thoughts called hypnagogia, generally related to recent experiences. This phase slips by unnoticed most of the time unless it is interrupted by waking. Like Edison, surrealist painter Salvador Dalí believed interrupting sleep’s onset could boost creativity. (He used a heavy key instead of a metal ball.) To see whether Dalí and Edison were right, researchers recruited more than 100 easy sleepers. The team gave them a math test that required them to convert strings of eight digits into new strings of seven by using specific rules in a stepwise manner, such as “repeat the number if the previous and next digit are identical.” The volunteers weren’t told that there was an easier way to get the right answers by following a hidden rule: The second number in their final string was always the same as the last number in the same string. © 2021 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Sleep; Attention
Link ID: 28106 - Posted: 12.11.2021