Chapter 5. The Sensorimotor System

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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

By Jonathan Moens An artificial intelligence can decode words and sentences from brain activity with surprising — but still limited — accuracy. Using only a few seconds of brain activity data, the AI guesses what a person has heard. It lists the correct answer in its top 10 possibilities up to 73 percent of the time, researchers found in a preliminary study. The AI’s “performance was above what many people thought was possible at this stage,” says Giovanni Di Liberto, a computer scientist at Trinity College Dublin who was not involved in the research. Developed at the parent company of Facebook, Meta, the AI could eventually be used to help thousands of people around the world unable to communicate through speech, typing or gestures, researchers report August 25 at arXiv.org. That includes many patients in minimally conscious, locked-in or “vegetative states” — what’s now generally known as unresponsive wakefulness syndrome (SN: 2/8/19). Most existing technologies to help such patients communicate require risky brain surgeries to implant electrodes. This new approach “could provide a viable path to help patients with communication deficits … without the use of invasive methods,” says neuroscientist Jean-Rémi King, a Meta AI researcher currently at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. King and his colleagues trained a computational tool to detect words and sentences on 56,000 hours of speech recordings from 53 languages. The tool, also known as a language model, learned how to recognize specific features of language both at a fine-grained level — think letters or syllables — and at a broader level, such as a word or sentence. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Keyword: Language; Robotics
Link ID: 28470 - Posted: 09.10.2022

By Laurie McGinley Independent advisers to the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday voted 7 to 2 to recommend approval of an experimental ALS drug with strong support from patients and advocates, making it likely the hotly debated treatment will be cleared by the agency within weeks. The vote was a stunning turnaround from late March when the panel voted 6 to 4 to recommend against FDA approval. At that meeting, the FDA’s Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee concluded the evidence from a single clinical trial — with just 137 patients and some follow-up data — was not sufficient to show the drug, called AMX0035, slowed a degenerative disease that usually kills people within three to five years. But on Wednesday, after hours of discussion, several advisers said that additional analyses submitted by the drug’s manufacturer, Cambridge-based Amylyx, bolstered the case for approval, even though uncertainties remain. Advisers were also affected by the disease’s severity and the lack of effective treatments. A vow by a top Amylyx official to pull the drug from the market if a larger study, with 600 patients, fails to show effectiveness was also a factor in the vote. The FDA, which usually follows the recommendation of its outside advisers but is not required to, is expected to decide whether to approve the drug by Sept. 29. The improved fortunes of the medicine came despite criticism from FDA staff as recently as last week about the treatment’s effectiveness, the conduct of its clinical trial and the researchers’ interpretation of the data. But the medicine is considered safe, and the agency has been under intense pressure from ALS patients and physicians who say the treatment holds promise for a fatal disease that typically causes rapid deterioration and death.

Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease
Link ID: 28467 - Posted: 09.10.2022

Researchers have published two papers describing how they identified a potential new pathway for treating a sporadic form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The studies were published as part of a cooperative research agreement between the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the Switzerland-based biotechnology company GeNeuro Inc. One unusual side effect of hundreds of thousands of years of evolution is that the human genome now contains DNA sequences from ancient retroviruses—referred to as human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs). Though most remain dormant, reactivation of HERVs have been implicated in several neurodegenerative diseases, including ALS. The first of these papers shows that a specific HERV produces a protein that can be found in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of people with ALS. This protein, called HERV-K ENV, is toxic when added to neurons grown in laboratory dishes. In addition, a special kind of mouse genetically designed to create HERV-K ENV develops symptoms very similar to ALS. Adding the CSF from people with ALS to lab-grown neurons resulted in damage to the cells. When a synthetic antibody designed specifically to recognize HERV-K ENV was added as well to those neurons, the toxic effects were reduced. These findings together suggest that the improper activation of the HERV-K ENV gene could be the cause of the symptoms seen in certain cases of sporadic ALS. The discovery that a synthetic antibody to HERV-K ENV could be protective led the researchers to look at whether the immune system of people with ALS produced any antibodies, as well. In the second paper, the authors show that indeed higher levels of antibodies against HERV-K ENV were seen in the blood of a group of people with ALS as compared to healthy donors. The pattern of antibodies against this viral protein was also more complex in persons with ALS. In addition, there was also a correlation between higher antibody levels against HERV-K ENV and longer overall survival.

Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease
Link ID: 28455 - Posted: 08.31.2022

By Anil Oza Sitting alone in the cockpit of a small biplane, Martin Wikelski listens for the pings of a machine by his side. The sonic beacons help the ecologist stalk death’s-head hawkmoths (Acherontia atropos) fluttering across the dark skies above Konstanz, Germany — about 80 kilometers north of the Swiss Alps. The moths, nicknamed for the skull-and-crossbones pattern on their backs, migrate thousands of kilometers between northern Africa and the Alps during the spring and fall. Many migratory insects go where the wind takes them, says Ring Carde, an entomologist at the University of California, Riverside who is not a member of Wikelski’s team. Death’s-head hawkmoths appear to be anything but typical. “When I follow them with a plane, I use very little gas,” says Wikelski, of the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Munich. “That shows me that they are supposedly choosing directions or areas that are probably supported by a little bit of updraft.” A new analysis of data collected from 14 death’s-head hawkmoths suggest that these insects indeed pilot themselves, possibly relying in part on an internal compass attuned to Earth’s magnetic field. The moths not only fly along a straight path, they also stay the course even when winds change, Wikelski and colleagues report August 11 in Science. The findings could help predict how the moths’ flight paths might shift as the globe continues warming, Wikelski says. Like many animals, death’s-head hawkmoths will probably move north in search of cooler temperatures, he suspects. To keep tabs on the moths, Wikelski’s team glued radio transmitters to their backs, which is easier to do than one might expect. “Death’s-head hawkmoths are totally cool,” Wikelski says. They’re also huge. Weighing as much as three jellybeans, the moths are the largest in Europe. That makes attaching the tiny tags a cinch, though the moths don’t like it very much. “They talk to you, they shout at you a little bit,” he says. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Keyword: Animal Migration
Link ID: 28451 - Posted: 08.27.2022

By Betsy Mason 08.05.2022 What is special about humans that sets us apart from other animals? Less than some of us would like to believe. As scientists peer more deeply into the lives of other animals, they’re finding that our fellow creatures are far more emotionally, socially, and cognitively complex than we typically give them credit for. A deluge of innovative research is revealing that behavior we would call intelligent if humans did it can be found in virtually every corner of the animal kingdom. Already this year scientists have shown that Goffin’s cockatoos can use multiple tools at once to solve a problem, Australian Magpies will cooperate to remove tracking devices harnessed to them by scientists, and a small brown songbird can sometimes keep time better than the average professional musician — and that’s just among birds. This pileup of fascinating findings may be at least partly responsible for an increase in people’s interest in the lives of other animals — a trend that’s reflected in an apparent uptick in books and television shows on the topic, as well as in legislation concerning other species. Public sentiment in part pushed the National Institutes of Health to stop supporting biomedical research on chimpanzees in 2015. In Canada, an outcry led to a ban in 2019 on keeping cetaceans like dolphins and orcas in captivity. And earlier this year, the United Kingdom passed an animal welfare bill that officially recognizes that many animals are sentient beings capable of suffering, including invertebrates like octopuses and lobsters. Many of these efforts are motivated by human empathy for animals we’ve come to see as intelligent, feeling beings like us, such as chimpanzees and dolphins. But how can we extend that concern to the millions of other species that share the planet with us?

Keyword: Vision; Hearing
Link ID: 28447 - Posted: 08.27.2022

By Chantel Prat I remember all too well that day early in the pandemic when we first received the “stay at home” order. My attitude quickly shifted from feeling like I got a “snow day” to feeling like a bird in a cage. Being a person who is both extraverted by nature and not one who enjoys being told what to do, the transition was pretty rough. But you know what? I got used to it. Though the pandemic undoubtedly affected some of your lives more than others, I know it touched every one of us in ways we will never forget. And now, after two years and counting, I am positive that every person reading this is fundamentally different from when the pandemic started. Because that’s how our brains work. They are molded by our experiences so that we can fit into all kinds of different situations—even the decidedly suboptimal ones. MOTHER TONGUE: Neuroscientist and psychologist Chantel Prat says the languages we speak play a huge role in shaping our minds and brains. Photo by Shaya Bendix Lyon. This is actually one of the most human things about all of our brains. In fact, according to some contemporary views of human evolution, our ancestors underwent a “cognitive revolution” precisely because they were forced to adapt. Based on evidence suggesting that the size of our ancestors’ brains increased following periods of extreme weather instability, one popular explanation for our remarkable flexibility is that the hominids who were not able to adapt to environmental changes didn’t survive. In other words, the brains of modern humans were selected for their ability to learn and adapt to changing environments. But one of the major costs of this remarkable flexibility is that humans are born without any significant preconceived notions about how things work. If you’ve ever had a conversation with someone about an event you both participated in that left you feeling like one of you was delusional because your stories were so different, you might have a hint about how much your experiences have shaped the way you understand the world around you. This can be insanely frustrating because—let’s face it—our own brains are really convincing when they construct our personal version of reality. Remember the Dress? Though it can feel like gaslighting when someone has a different reality from yours, it’s also entirely possible that you both were reporting your version of the truth. At the end of the day, the way people remember a story reflects differences in the way they experienced the original event. The scientific explanation for this boils down to differences in perspective. © 2022 NautilusThink Inc,

Keyword: Attention; Vision
Link ID: 28427 - Posted: 08.11.2022

By Betsy Mason What is special about humans that sets us apart from other animals? Less than some of us would like to believe. As scientists peer more deeply into the lives of other animals, they’re finding that our fellow creatures are far more emotionally, socially, and cognitively complex than we typically give them credit for. A deluge of innovative research is revealing that behavior we would call intelligent if humans did it can be found in virtually every corner of the animal kingdom. Already this year scientists have shown that Goffin’s cockatoos can use multiple tools at once to solve a problem, Australian Magpies will cooperate to remove tracking devices harnessed to them by scientists, and a small brown songbird can sometimes keep time better than the average professional musician — and that’s just among birds. This pileup of fascinating findings may be at least partly responsible for an increase in people’s interest in the lives of other animals — a trend that’s reflected in an apparent uptick in books and television shows on the topic, as well as in legislation concerning other species. Public sentiment in part pushed the National Institutes of Health to stop supporting biomedical research on chimpanzees in 2015. In Canada, an outcry led to a ban in 2019 on keeping cetaceans like dolphins and orcas in captivity. And earlier this year, the United Kingdom passed an animal welfare bill that officially recognizes that many animals are sentient beings capable of suffering, including invertebrates like octopuses and lobsters. Many of these efforts are motivated by human empathy for animals we’ve come to see as intelligent, feeling beings like us, such as chimpanzees and dolphins. But how can we extend that concern to the millions of other species that share the planet with us?

Keyword: Vision; Hearing
Link ID: 28420 - Posted: 08.06.2022

R. Douglas Fields Neuroscientists, being interested in how brains work, naturally focus on neurons, the cells that can convey elements of sense and thought to each other via electrical impulses. But equally worthy of study is a substance that’s between them — a viscous coating on the outside of these neurons. Roughly equivalent to the cartilage in our noses and joints, the stuff clings like a fishing net to some of our neurons, inspiring the name perineuronal nets (PNNs). They’re composed of long chains of sugar molecules attached to a protein scaffolding, and they hold neurons in place, preventing them from sprouting and making new connections. Given this ability, this little-known neural coating provides answers to some of the most puzzling questions about the brain: Why do young brains absorb new information so easily? Why are the fearful memories that accompany post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) so difficult to forget? Why is it so hard to stop drinking after becoming dependent on alcohol? And according to new research from the neuroscientist Arkady Khoutorsky and his colleagues at McGill University, we now know that PNNs also explain why pain can develop and persist so long after a nerve injury. Neural plasticity is the ability of neural networks to change in response to experiences in life or to repair themselves after brain injury. Such opportunities for effortless change are known as critical periods when they occur early in life. Consider how easily babies pick up language, but how difficult it is to learn a foreign language as an adult. In a way, this is what we’d want: After the intricate neural networks that allow us to understand our native language are formed, it’s important for them to be locked down, so the networks remain relatively undisturbed for the rest of our lives. All Rights Reserved © 2022

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Glia
Link ID: 28415 - Posted: 07.30.2022

ByVirginia Morell We swat bees to avoid painful stings, but do they feel the pain we inflict? A new study suggests they do, a possible clue that they and other insects have sentience—the ability to be aware of their feelings. “It’s an impressive piece of work” with important implications, says Jonathan Birch, a philosopher and expert on animal sentience at the London School of Economics who was not involved with the paper. If the study holds up, he says, “the world contains far more sentient beings than we ever realized.” Previous research has shown honey bees and bumble bees are intelligent, innovative, creatures. They understand the concept of zero, can do simple math, and distinguish among human faces (and probably bee faces, too). They’re usually optimistic when successfully foraging, but can become depressed if momentarily trapped by a predatory spider. Even when a bee escapes a spider, “her demeanor changes; for days after, she’s scared of every flower,” says Lars Chittka, a cognitive scientist at Queen Mary University of London whose lab carried out that study as well as the new research. “They were experiencing an emotional state.” To find out whether these emotions include pain, Chittka and colleagues looked at one of the criteria commonly used for defining pain in animals: “motivational trade-offs.” People will endure the pain of a dentist’s drill for the longer term benefits of healthy teeth, for example. Similarly, hermit crabs will leave preferred shells to escape an electric shock only when given a particularly high jolt—an experiment that demonstrated crabs can tell the difference between weak and strong painful stimuli, and decide how much pain is worth enduring. That suggests crabs do feel pain and don’t simply respond reflexively to an unpleasant stimulus. Partly as a result of that study, crabs (and other crustaceans, including lobsters and crayfish) are recognized as sentient under U.K. law. © 2022 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Evolution
Link ID: 28410 - Posted: 07.30.2022

By Meghan Rosen A flexible electronic implant could one day make pain management a lot more chill. Created from materials that dissolve in the body, the device encircles nerves with an evaporative cooler. Implanted in rats, the cooler blocked pain signals from zipping up to the brain, bioengineer John Rogers and colleagues report in the July 1 Science. Though far from ready for human use, a future version could potentially let “patients dial up or down the pain relief they need at any given moment,” says Rogers, of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Scientists already knew that low temperatures can numb nerves in the body. Think of frozen fingers in the winter, Rogers says. But mimicking this phenomenon with an electronic implant isn’t easy. Nerves are fragile, so scientists need something that gently hugs the tissues. And an ideal implant would be absorbed by the body, so doctors wouldn’t have to remove it. Made from water-soluble materials, the team’s device features a soft cuff that wraps around a nerve like toilet paper on a roll. Tiny channels snake down its rubbery length. When liquid coolant that’s pumped through the channels evaporates, the process draws heat from the underlying nerve. A temperature sensor helps scientists hit the sweet spot — cold enough to block pain but not too cold to damage the nerve. The researchers wrapped the implant around a nerve in rats and tested how they responded to having a paw poked. With the nerve cooler switched on, scientists could apply about seven times as much pressure as usual before the animals pulled their paws away. That’s a sign that the rats’ senses had grown sluggish, Rogers says. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 28387 - Posted: 07.05.2022

By Pam Belluck An experimental therapy for A.L.S., the paralyzing and fatal neurological disorder, has been approved in Canada, adding a new treatment option for a disease for which there are few effective therapies. The approval, the first in the world for the treatment — AMX0035, to be marketed in Canada as Albrioza — comes with the condition that the drug company later provide better evidence that the treatment works. It is likely to be of major interest to patients with A.L.S. (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) in the United States, where the same therapy is being evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, which has raised questions about the treatment’s effectiveness. An F.D.A. review earlier this year found the treatment to be safe, but said there was not enough evidence that it was effective either in helping patients live longer or slowing the rate at which they lose functions like muscle control, speaking or breathing without assistance. A committee of independent advisers to the F.D.A. voted by a narrow margin in March that the therapy was not ready for approval. The F.D.A. had been scheduled to issue a final decision this month, but recently extended the deadline to Sept. 29, saying it needed more time to review additional analyses of data submitted by the company. In the meantime, Calaneet Balas, president and chief executive of the A.L.S. Association, one of several patient advocacy organizations pressing for F.D.A. approval, said, “We expect that Americans living with A.L.S. will try to access Albrioza in Canada, just as we have heard reports of people trying to buy the ingredients on Amazon.” © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease
Link ID: 28369 - Posted: 06.14.2022

Sofia Quaglia When they are in the deep, dark ocean, seals use their whiskers to track down their prey, a study has confirmed after observing the sea mammals in their natural habitat. It’s hard for light to penetrate the gloom of the ocean’s depths, and animals have come up with a variety of adaptations in order to live and hunt there. Whales and dolphins, for example, use echolocation – the art of sending out clicky noises into the water and listening to their echo as they bounce off possible prey, to locate them. But deep-diving seals who don’t have those same acoustic projectors must have evolutionarily learned to deploy another sensory technique. Scientists have long hypothesised that the secret weapons are their long, cat-like whiskers, conducting over 20 years of experiments with artificial whiskers or captive seals blindfolded in a pool, given the difficulties of directly observing the hunters in the tenebrous depths of the ocean. Now a study may have confirmed the hypothesis, according to Taiki Adachi, assistant project scientist of University of California, Santa Cruz, and one of the lead authors of the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Adachi and his team positioned small video cameras with infrared night-vision on the left cheek, lower jaw, back and head of five free-ranging northern elephant seals, the Mirounga angustirostris, in Año Nuevo state park in California. They recorded a total of approximately nine and a half hours of deep sea footage during their seasonal migration. By analysing the videos the scientists noted that diving seals held back their whiskers for the initial part of their dives and, and once they reached a depth suitable for foraging, they rhythmically whisked their whiskers back and forth, hoping to sense any vibration caused by the slightest water movements of swimming prey. © 2022 Guardian News & Media Limited o

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 28368 - Posted: 06.14.2022

By Maria Temming The Terminator may be one step closer to reality. Researchers at the University of Tokyo have built a robotic finger that, much like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s titular cyborg assassin, is covered in living human skin. The goal is to someday build robots that look like real people — albeit for more altruistic applications. Super realistic-looking robots could more seamlessly interact with humans in medical care and service industries, say biohybrid engineer Shoji Takeuchi and his colleagues June 9 in Matter. (Whether cyborgs masked in living tissue would be more congenial or creepy is probably in the eye of the beholder.) To cover the finger in skin, Takeuchi and colleagues submerged the robotic digit in a blend of collagen and human skin cells called dermal fibroblasts. The mixture settled into a base layer of skin, or dermis, covering the finger. The team then poured a liquid containing human keratinocyte cells onto the finger, which formed an outer skin layer, or epidermis. After two weeks, skin covering the finger measured a few millimeters thick — comparable to the thickness of human skin. The lab-made skin was strong and stretchy enough to withstand the robotic finger bending. It could also heal itself: When researchers made a small cut on the robotic finger and covered it with a collagen bandage, the skin’s fibroblast cells merged the bandage with the rest of the skin within a week. Researchers at the University of Tokyo covered this robotic finger in living human skin to pave the way for ultrarealistic cyborgs. “This is very interesting work and an important step forward in the field,” says Ritu Raman, an MIT engineer who also builds machines with living components. “Biological materials are appealing because they can dynamically sense and adapt to their environments.” For instance, she’d like to see a future version of the living robot skin embedded with nerve cells to make robots more aware of their surroundings. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Robotics
Link ID: 28365 - Posted: 06.11.2022

ByRobert F. Service An experimental drug is raising new hopes for those with Parkinson’s disease. So far, the compound has only been tested in animals and in an initial safety assessment in humans. But results show it inhibits a cellular pathway that gives rise to the disease, which researchers have been working to target for nearly 20 years. Investigators are now launching expanded clinical trials. “This is a very, very important step forward,” says Patrick Lewis, a neuroscientist who studies the mechanisms of Parkinson’s at the University of London’s Royal Veterinary College. If further tests prove the compound is effective in humans, says Lewis, who was not involved with the new study, it would likely be given to patients as soon as they exhibit the first signs of developing the progressive disorder. “The hope is that [the new drug] would slow down the progression of disease.” Parkinson’s affects as many as 10 million people worldwide. It results when cells in the brain that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine stop working or die. Over time this causes a widespread decline in brain function, leading to shaking and loss of muscle control. Current drugs can help replace lost dopamine and reduce symptoms, but no therapies slow or halt disease progression itself. The new study focuses on a gene called leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2). People with mutations in this gene are at high risk for developing Parkinson’s. Among other roles, LRRK2 modifies a suite of proteins called Rab guanosine triphosphates, which act like air traffic controllers, orchestrating the flow of proteins in and out of cells. The mutations kick Rab into overdrive and reduce the efficiency of cellular structures called lysosomes, which chew up and recycle unwanted proteins. This creates a buildup of toxic byproducts that can kill neurons and lead to Parkinson’s, says Carole Ho, chief medical officer of Denali Therapeutics, a biotech startup in California. © 2022 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Parkinsons
Link ID: 28362 - Posted: 06.09.2022

By Lisa Sanders, M.D. “You have to take your husband to the hospital right now,” the doctor urged over the phone. “His kidneys aren’t working at all, and we need to find out why.” The woman looked at her 82-year-old spouse. He was so thin and pale. She thanked the doctor and called 911. For the past couple of months, every meal was a struggle. Swallowing food was strangely difficult. Liquids were even worse. Whatever he drank seemed to go down the wrong pipe, and he coughed and sputtered after almost every sip. It was terrifying. He saw an ear, nose and throat specialist, who scoped his mouth and esophagus. There wasn’t anything blocking the way. The doctor recommended that he get some therapy to help him strengthen the muscles he used to swallow, and until he did that, he should thicken his liquids to make drinking easier. The patient tried that once, but it was so disgusting he gave up on it. His wife was worried as she watched him eat and drink less and less. She could see that he was getting weaker every day. He had a stroke four months earlier, and since then his right foot dragged a little. But now she had to help him get out of his recliner. And he wasn’t able to drive — she had to make the 45-minute trip with him each day to his office. Finally, he agreed to see Dr. Richard Kaufman, their primary-care doctor. Kaufman was shocked by the man’s appearance, how the skin on his face hung in folds as if air had been let out of his cheeks. He’d lost nearly 40 pounds. He struggled to walk the few steps to the exam table. His right side, which was weakened by his stroke, was now matched by weakness on his left side. His stroke hadn’t done this. There was something else going on. Kaufman ordered some preliminary blood tests to try to see where the problem might lie. Those were the results that sent the couple to the emergency room. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Neuroimmunology; Muscles
Link ID: 28339 - Posted: 05.28.2022

By Veronique Greenwood Lovebirds, small parrots with vibrant rainbow plumage and cheeky personalities, are popular pets. They swing from ropes, cuddle with companions and race for treats in a waddling gait with all the urgency of toddlers who spot a cookie. But, along with other parrots, they also do something strange: They use their faces to climb walls. Give these birds a vertical surface to clamber up, and they cycle between left foot, right foot and beak as if their mouths were another limb. In fact, a new analysis of the forces climbing lovebirds exert reveals that this is precisely what they are doing. Somehow, a team of scientists wrote in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B on Wednesday, the birds and perhaps other parrot species have repurposed the muscles in their necks and heads so they can walk on their beaks, using them the way rock climbers use their arms. Climbing with a beak as a third limb is peculiar because third limbs generally are not something life on Earth is capable of producing, said Michael Granatosky, an assistant professor of anatomy at the New York Institute of Technology and an author of the new paper. “There is this very deep, deep set aspect of our biology that everything is bilateral” in much of the animal kingdom, he said. The situation makes it developmentally unlikely to grow an odd numbers of limbs for walking. Some animals have developed workarounds. Kangaroos use their tails as a fifth limb when hopping slowly, pushing off from the ground with their posteriors the same way they push with their feet. To see if parrots were using their beaks in a similar way, Dr. Granatosky and a graduate student, Melody Young, as well as their colleagues brought six rosy-faced lovebirds from a pet store into the lab. They had the birds climb up a surface that was fitted with a sensor to keep track of how much force they were exerting and in what directions. The scientists found that the propulsive force the birds applied through their beaks was similar to what they provided with their legs. What had started as a way to eat had transformed into a way to walk, with beaks as powerful as their limbs. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Evolution
Link ID: 28336 - Posted: 05.25.2022

Nicola Davis Science correspondent Mice with spinal cord injuries have shown remarkable recovery after being given a drug initially developed for people with lung disease, researchers have revealed, saying the treatment could soon be tested on humans. It is thought there are about 2,500 new spinal cord injuries in the UK every year, with some of those affected experiencing full loss of movement as a result. Despite a number of promising areas of research, at present damage to the spinal cord is not reversible. Now researchers at the University of Birmingham say a drug called AZD1236, initially developed to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in humans, has shown promise in mice with spinal cord compression injuries, a type of injury often associated with motor accidents in humans, but which is also linked to conditions such as osteoarthritis. A similar drug, called AZD3342, showed comparable benefits in rats. The results, published in the journal Clinical and Translational Medicine, suggested the drugs block the action of enzymes known as MMP-9 and MMP-12 that rise after spinal cord injury. The upshot was that swelling of the spinal cord was reduced, levels of proteins linked to inflammation and pain were lowered, and breakdown of the blood-spinal cord barrier was limited. Scarring of connective tissue was also reduced. The team said that compared with injured mice not given AZD1236, those given the drug for three days showed 85% improvement in movement and sensation six weeks after the spinal injury, while their nerve function was 80% of that seen in uninjured mice. Furthermore, the benefits were similar whether the drug was given immediately after spinal injury or 24 hours later. © 2022 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Regeneration
Link ID: 28333 - Posted: 05.21.2022

By Eiman Azim, Sliman Bensmaia, Lee E. Miller, Chris Versteeg Imagine you are playing the guitar. You’re seated, supporting the instrument’s weight across your lap. One hand strums; the other presses strings against the guitar’s neck to play chords. Your vision tracks sheet music on a page, and your hearing lets you listen to the sound. In addition, two other senses make playing this instrument possible. One of them, touch, tells you about your interactions with the guitar. Another, proprioception, tells you about your arms’ and hands’ positions and movements as you play. Together, these two capacities combine into what scientists call somatosensation, or body perception. Our skin and muscles have millions of sensors that contribute to somatosensation. Yet our brain does not become overwhelmed by the barrage of these inputs—or from any of our other senses, for that matter. You’re not distracted by the pinch of your shoes or the tug of the guitar strap as you play; you focus only on the sensory inputs that matter. The brain expertly enhances some signals and filters out others so that we can ignore distractions and focus on the most important details. How does the brain accomplish these feats of focus? In recent research at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., we have illuminated a new answer to this question. Through several studies, we have discovered that a small, largely ignored structure at the very bottom of the brain stem plays a critical role in the brain’s selection of sensory signals. The area is called the cuneate nucleus, or CN. Our research on the CN not only changes the scientific understanding of sensory processing, but it might also lay the groundwork for medical interventions to restore sensation in patients with injury or disease. © 2022 Scientific American

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 28330 - Posted: 05.18.2022

By Gina Kolata The very treatments often used to soothe pain in the lower back, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is the most common type of pain, might cause it to last longer, according to a new study. Managing pain with steroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen, can actually turn a wrenched back into a chronic condition, the study found. Some medical experts urged caution in interpreting the results too broadly. The study did not use the gold standard for medical research, which would be a clinical trial in which people with back pain would be randomly assigned to take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug or a placebo and followed to see who developed chronic pain. Instead, it involved observations of patients, an animal study and an analysis of patients in a large database. “It’s intriguing but requires further study,” said Dr. Steven J. Atlas, director of primary care practice-based research and quality improvement at Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Bruce M. Vrooman, a pain specialist at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire, agreed, but also called the study “impressive in its scope” and said that if the results hold up in a clinical trial, it could “force reconsideration of how we treat acute pain.” Dr. Thomas Buchheit, director of the regenerative pain therapies program at Duke, had a different view. “People overuse the term ‘paradigm shift’, but this is absolutely a paradigm shift,” Dr. Buchheit said. “There is this unspoken rule: If it hurts, take an anti-inflammatory, and if it still hurts, put a steroid on it,” he added. “But,” he said, the study shows that “we have to think of healing and not suppression of inflammation.” Guidelines from professional medical societies already say that people with back pain should start with nondrug treatments like exercise, physical therapy, heat or massage. Those measures turn out to be as effective as pain-suppressing drugs, without the same side effects. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 28328 - Posted: 05.18.2022